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Madagascar rivals soothe tensions

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

Madagascar's president and his political rival have agreed to try to calm tensions that have seen about 100 people killed in the last month.

It was the first meeting between President Marc Ravalomanana and Andry Rajoelina, the sacked mayor of Antananarivo, since the crisis began.

A church group mediating the meeting said the leaders agreed to end violence and political arrests.

There are expected to be further talks, though no date has been set.

Mr Rajoelina, who was sacked as the capital's mayor earlier this month, has accused the president of being a dictator.

President Ravalomanana denies abusing power and has told supporters he intends to remain in power until the end of his mandate in 2011.

Five-point plan

Saturday's meeting was marked by "respect, cordiality and calm" on both sides, said the Council of Christian Churches in Madagascar (FFKM), which hosted the talks.

The body said the rivals had agreed a five-point plan that included ending provocative statements and the spreading of false information.

They also agreed to stop violence, looting, public meetings and arrests "of a political nature".

Analysts say a power-sharing unity government is a likely option for Madagascar now.

The 34-year-old opposition leader, a former DJ turned politician, has declared himself president and is attempting to establish a parallel administration, which he wants to install in government buildings.

On Friday, the security forces threw opposition supporters out of four government buildings they had seized a day earlier.

Earlier, Mr Rajoelina called off a planned march on the presidential palace.

The last time protesters had marched on the palace, security forces killed 28 people.

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