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Madagascar crowds brave cyclone

Madagascar President Marc Ravalomanana at presidential palace in Antananarivo on 31 January 2009
President Ravalomanana is adamant he has no reason to step down

Up to 40,000 people have braved a cyclone to gather in Madagascar's capital to show support for President Marc Ravalomanana.

The stadium rally called by the president in Antananarivo was his first such attempt to counter weeks of almost daily opposition demonstrations.

It came a day after a protest organised by his bitter rival, former mayor Andry Rajoelina, drew 5,000 people.

Mr Rajoelina has declared himself president and announced his cabinet.

Talks between the two sides, although not the two leaders, are scheduled, mediated by the United Nations envoy, Haile Menkerios.

The BBC's Christina Corbett in Antananarivo says tens of thousands of demonstrators braved pouring rain bought by Cyclone Gael to gather in the capital's Mamahasina sports arena on Wednesday.

At this rate, we'll all be jobless and Rajoelina isn't going to pay me a salary, is he?
Demonstrator

Although the meeting was billed as a peace rally, she says, many of those present had come to show their support for President Ravalomanana.

As music pumped out of loud speakers, a DJ shouted to the crowd: "Who do you support?" The deafening reply was: "Ravalomanana".

Mr Rajoelina's movement had looked like it was gathering momentum once more after the deaths of 28 anti-government protesters on Saturday.

But our correspondent says that a sense of frustration is emerging over the political deadlock that the 34-year-old former mayor has bought to Madagascar.

"I'm here to support the regime. At this rate, we'll all be jobless and Rajoelina isn't going to pay me a salary, is he?," a 43-year-old driver told AFP news agency.

Despite discontent over widespread poverty in the country, our correspondent says many voters would rather wait for presidential elections due in 2011 and let democracy take its course, than be plunged into political turmoil.

Mr Rajoelina accuses Mr Ravalomanana of misspending public money and being a dictator, while the president accuses his rival of troublemaking.

At least 100 people have died since anti-government protests broke out in January.



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