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Madagascar rivals meet after protests kill dozens

  • Story Highlights
  • U.N. Secretary-General urges leaders of Madagascar to resolve differences
  • At least 26 killed during an anti-government rally earlier this month
  • Violence stems from a dispute over who is in charge of the government
  • Andry Rajoelina, the mayor of Antananarivo, had declared himself leader
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(CNN) -- The president of Madagascar and an opposition leader vowed over the weekend to put an end to demonstrations and politically motivated arrests after a tense standoff that has lasted nearly a month and left dozens dead.

Protesters rally in Antananarivo on February 7 before violence broke out near the presidential palace.

Protesters rally in Antananarivo on February 7 before violence broke out near the presidential palace.

President Marc Ravalomanana met his rival Andry Rajoelina Saturday in a summit organized by the island nation's Christian Council of Churches, the president's office said in a statement.

The two sides also agreed "to stop all forms of provocation, denigration, and disseminating false information," the statement said.

Rajoelina and his supporters took to the streets at the beginning of February, declaring him the nation's leader after a week of violence and looting that killed at least 80 people and wounded more than 300.

Rajoelina urged supporters to demand the resignation of Ravalomanana and said he planned to take charge until a transition government can be established in the country off Africa's southeastern coast.

At least 26 people were killed and 80 wounded two weeks ago when an anti-government rally turned violent. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon the following day urged the leaders of Madagascar to resolve their differences.

Ban called on the authorities "to urgently initiate a fair process by which those responsible will be brought to justice." Ban also blamed the "tragedy" on a "lack of restraint on all sides," he said in a statement issued by his spokesperson.

The February 7 violence stemmed from an ongoing dispute over who is in charge of the government.

Andry Rajoelina called the rally to unveil his government at the May 13th Plaza, according to Brittany Martin, an American who is a Harvard Fellow and lives in Antananarivo.

Rajoelina still is technically mayor of Antananarivo, though he claims to head the transitional government. President Ravalomanana fired him and put someone else in the mayoral job.

Martin said Saturday rally had been peaceful until the afternoon, when gunshots rang out after the protesters marched from the plaza to the palace.

She said it was unclear from where the shots had come. Some news media reports blamed foreign mercenaries for the shootings; others said army guards were responsible, or that the army was firing at the mercenaries to protect the crowd.

Violence in Madagascar began January 26, when protesters stormed state-run television and radio stations in Antananarivo. Photo See pictures from last month's upheaval »

Hours earlier, the government had shut down a radio station owned by Rajoelina and, weeks ago, had similarly shut down Rajoelina's television station after it aired an interview with ex-President Didier Ratsiraka.


Ravalomanana took power in 2001 after ousting Ratsiraka in a hotly contested election. Ratsiraka then fled to France. Loyalists blame Ratsiraka's family members for inciting the recent trouble.

There is also anger over reports that Ravalomanana recently bought a $60 million airplane in poverty-stricken Madagascar, where the World Bank estimates the average annual income at $320.

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