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Thursday, 12 December, 2002, 15:53 GMT
Madagascar 'abusing' human rights
Militiamen in Madagascar
Up to 500 could have been jailed during the crisis
As Madagascar prepares for Sunday's parliamentary elections, Amnesty International has called for an independent investigation into alleged human rights abuses in the country.

In a report, the organisation details human rights violations which it says were committed by the supporters and security forces of the former president, Didier Ratsiraka and, to a lesser degree, by those of the present head of state, Marc Ravalomanana.

It says that hundreds of people were arrested in the first half of this year during a major political stand-off between the two men, and clashes between their separate factions of the military.

At least 35 people died in months of political violence which followed last December's presidential election.

Early legislative elections are being held at the weekend - the first since the violence - as part of an attempt to resolve this dispute.

Arbitrary arrests

In its report, Amnesty International calls for independent and impartial inquiries into all violations and abuses, including assassinations and torture.

"It highlights the need to bring to justice all those who are suspected of committing serious human rights violations during the political crisis," spokeswoman Benedicte Goderiot told the BBC's French service.

Ms Goderiot said that some had been the victims of arbitrary arrests, including a researcher from Mahajanga who she said had been tried for his beliefs.

But Amnesty insisted that judicial procedures against the presumed culprits needed to meet international standards of fairness.

The report says that between 400 and 500 arrested during the crisis are still being held in custody in overcrowded prisons. The government puts the figure at 144, according to the French news agency AFP.

Beaten

It details the case of a bank manager and his deputy, who supporter Mr Ravalomanana, and which it says were beaten and pushed, together with their vehicle, into a precipice by soldiers in Mr Ratsiraka's camp in March. One of the two men died.

Amnesty International also singles out three people who were arrested in April by the bodyguards of Mr Ravalomanana's prime minister, Jacques Sylla.

Former President Didier Ratsiraka
Defeated Ratsiraka fled to France

Two of those arrested had a reputation for being members of militias supporting Mr Ratsiraka, AFP reported at the time.

New results of the election re-count in July handed Mr Ravalomanana the presidency over Mr Ratsiraka, who later fled to exile in France.

But the African Union will decide at an extraordinary summit next month whether to readmit Madagascar, after it decided the transfer of power was unconstitutional.

Crucial

Sunday's parliamentary elections are considered as a crucial test of Mr Ravalomanana's popularity, a year after the presidential election.

Western donors, including the United States and the European Union, put pressure for the poll, originally scheduled for May 2003, to be brought forward before they release the $2.4m they have pledged.

International observers have already arrived in Madagascar to monitor the election.

Some 1,300 candidates will stand for the 160 seats in the new parliamentary assembly.

The two main parties are Mr Ravalomanana's Tim party (which stands for "I love Madagascar") and the Vanguard for Madagascan Renewal, or Arema, founded by Mr Ratsiraka.

But Arema is deeply divided, with one section taking part in the poll, while the other has called for a boycott.

The historic summit should create a new African Union.

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