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Madagascar s president wants peace talks

ANTANANARIVO, Jan 27 – Madagascar’s President Marc Ravalomanana called Tuesday for talks with his main opponent, Antananarivo Mayor Andry Rajoelina, the day after anti-government protests turned violent.

"I call on people to calm down. We need to put aside our pride, our egos. We need to talk," Ravalomanana said on private Radio Antsiva.

"There have already been some contacts," he added without elaborating.

Rajoelina for his part announced Tuesday that he was suspending his anti-government protest campaign after a demonstrator was shot dead. There were no protests seen in the capital Tuesday morning, an AFP correspondent reported.

"We are suspending the movement today. Everyone should stay at home," said Andry Rajoelina, who has called Ravalomanana’s government a dictatorship.

"There will be no discussions or dialogue today. First we must try the soldier who has killed one of my supporters," he said on the same radio station.

The protester was reportedly shot in the head by guards on Monday in front of Ravalomanana’s private TV station, MBS, which along with the state radio building had been besieged by an angry mob. Looting was also reported.

Rajoelina has ratcheted up opposition to the government since last month, when it shut down his television network Viva for broadcasting an interview with former president Didier Ratsiraka.

Ravalomanana, who had been due to attend a regional summit beginning Monday in Pretoria, flew back on Sunday night and accused the mayor of calling for a revolt.

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Rajoelina, 34, ran against Ravalomanana’s party as an independent candidate in municipal elections in 2007 and since taking office has grown into the regime’s most vocal opponent.

He has repeatedly condemned what he says are shrinking freedoms on the Indian Ocean Island and also fiercely criticised a massive project to lease vast swathes of farmland to South Korean industrial giant Daewoo.

Madagascar has been dogged over the years by political turmoil. The run-up to the 2006 presidential elections won by Ravalomanana was fraught with unrest, including a series of grenade explosions rocking the capital.


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