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Page last updated at 16:39 GMT, Saturday, 7 February 2009

Police 'kill many' in Madagascar

A man tries to run from gun shots near Madagascar President Marc Ravalomanana"s offices in Antananarivo on February 7, 2009
As many as 25 people are feared dead

At least 23 people have been killed in Madagascar after police opened fire on an opposition demonstration in the island nation's capital, reports say.

Some reports suggest that as many as 30 people may have been killed.

There have been repeated protests against the dismissal of Antananarivo Mayor Andry Rajoelina, who is engaged in a power struggle with the president.

The sacked mayor accuses President Marc Ravalomanana of misspending public money and being a dictator.

"Up to now, 25 are dead," an unnamed senior police officer at the scene was quoted by Reuters as saying.

The fire brigade said at least 23 people had been killed, AFP news agency said, while local media reported that 30 people were killed.

The crowd was walking peacefully, then all of a sudden, the military opened fire
Jocelyn Ratolojanahary
Anti-government protester

Demonstrators had been marching towards President Ravalomanana's compound when riot police opened fire.

Earlier, during a rally attended by 20,000 people, the former mayor's supporters had declared him head of a "transition higher authority".

Unarmed protesters

Immediately after the shooting, Mr Rajoelina said on Viva Radio: "The people were not armed, they only had their courage."

It is not clear if he was with the demonstration when the shooting broke out.

There were dozens of injured people at the city's main hospital. Jocelyn Ratolojanahary, whose hand was bandaged, told Reuters.

She said: "The crowd was walking peacefully, then all of a sudden, the military opened fire."

President Ravalomanana reportedly blamed the opposition leader for the violence.

"He (Rajoelina) led people to take the presidential palace by force and didn't know how to control them," Mr Ravalomanana told state television, according to Reuters news agency.

Mr Rajoelina was sacked by the government on Tuesday and replaced as mayor by Guy Randrianarisoa, a local city official.

Mr Rajoelina, who has successfully tapped into widespread frustration with the government, has said he would set up a transitional administration unless the president steps down.

Dozens of people were killed in unrest in January after anti-government protests turned into rioting and looting.

Madagascar, the world's fourth-largest island, has become a destination for tourists as well as foreign companies, searching for oil, gold, cobalt, nickel and uranium.

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