April 21, 2009 / 11:47 AM / 10 years ago

Madagascar government bans public protests

* Madagascar govt suspends public demonstrations

* Government says SADC will not send troops



By Alain Iloniaina

ANTANANARIVO, April 21 (Reuters) - Madagascar’s government banned public demonstrations on Tuesday to maintain security after two people died when armed forces broke up a protest backing ousted leader Marc Ravalomanana a day earlier.

Thousands of Ravalomanana’s supporters, who have held near-daily rallies since he stepped down in March under intense pressure from the army, had planned another meeting in the capital Antananarivo on Tuesday.

By midday, pockets of people were gathering but it was unclear whether the protest would go ahead.

Monday’s violence raises the spectre of a return to the civil unrest which killed 135 people and scared off tourists from the Indian Ocean island during the weeks-long power struggle which culminated in Ravalomanana’s overthrow.

"All demonstrations are banned, including those in support of Andry Rajoelina, in order to restore law and order," Prime Minister Roindefo Monja said during a cabinet meeting open to reporters.

The government did not say when the ban would be lifted.

The prime minister said Monday’s disturbance was designed to sully the interim administration’s reputation and was no reflection of democracy in Madagascar.

Police and soldiers fired tear gas and warning shots to disperse thousands of people protesting against the closure of Ravalomanana’s privately owned Radio and Television Mada.

A notice board outside a city centre hospital on Tuesday morning detailed two deaths and 20 injured patients.

Ravalomanana, 59, a dairy tycoon and self-made millionaire, has said he hopes to return to the world’s fourth largest island within a few weeks with help from the African Union (AU) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

He says he remains the legal head of state and is in exile in southern Africa.

Rajoelina’s government said on Tuesday it had received assurances from SADC that it would not launch a military intervention to aide Ravalomanana’s return.

"(SADC) affirmed it had no intention of sending a military force to accompany Ravalomanana back," Foreign Affairs Minister Ny Hasina Andriamanjato told reporters.

Ravalomanana’s bid to return risks stoking tensions and triggering more violence.

The international community widely condemned Rajoelina’s military-backed rise to power. Both the AU and SADC have suspended Madagascar and several donors have frozen aid.

Rajoelina, Africa’s youngest incumbent president at 34, has pledged elections in October 2010, but Ravalomanana says a poll is needed by this year to haul Madagascar out of the crisis. (Writing by Richard Lough; Editing by David Clarke)





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