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Madagascar annuls elections; general killed

A firefight between soldiers is the latest evidence of worsening violence  

ANTANANARIVO, Madagascar -- A Madagascan court has annulled the results of December presidential polls, ordering a recount of the disputed poll at the heart of the island's increasingly violent leadership crisis.

Hours earlier gunmen assassinated a Madagascan general in his hospital bed after he was wounded in a gunfight between members of the armed forces.

Three masked assassins pumped seven bullets into General Raymond Andrianaivo in a hospital in the town of Fianarantsoa, where he was being treated, hospital sources told Reuters.

He had been shot in a firefight on Tuesday between two convoys of soldiers loyal to embattled President Didier Ratsiraka, the sources said.

The recount decision and earlier shooting came as African leaders held separate meetings in Senegal with Ratsiraka and self-declared ruler Marc Ravalomanana, hoping to staunch worsening bloodshed on the giant Indian Ocean isle.

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The army gun battle was the first among the armed forces since the start of the island's four-month leadership crisis.

Earlier on Tuesday, Andrianaivo's men shot dead two women protesters at a barricade erected by supporters of Ravalomanana.

Witnesses told Reuters that the army gunfight began after a dispute developed between Andrianaivo's convoy and a second group of military vehicles sent to help reinforce the general's men.

One of Andrianaivo's officers, Lieutenant-Colonel Jean-Baptiste Rasolofo, was killed in the firefight, witnesses said.

The dead general was a supporter of embattled President Didier Ratsiraka  

A week ago one person was killed and 20 were injured in Antananarivo when unidentified assailants ransacked the houses of four associates of veteran president Ratsiraka.

More than 35 people have been killed in clashes involving rival protesters and security forces since the crisis began.

The army on the island of 15 million is divided between supporters of Ratsiraka, a former admiral, and Ravalomanana, a millionaire mayor who accuses the government of rigging December 16 polls.

Ravalomanana seized control of Madagascar's capital and had himself declared president on Ferbruary 22, saying Ratsiraka rigged the results of the election.

The High Constitutional Court, which gives the official stamp of approval to election results, validated results in January that showed no candidate had won an outright majority.

But in the decision delivered on Wednesday, the court's Administrative Chamber said it had reinstated members of the court dismissed by Ratsiraka before the poll, effectively annulling the election results approved by their replacements.

"This High Constitutional Court is sent back to re-examine the electoral files and the official proclamation of the results," the court's Administrative Chamber said in its ruling.

Ravalomanana believes a true vote count would show he won an outright majority. Ratsiraka maintains that a second round is needed to determine the winner.


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