March 28, 2009 / 1:21 PM / 10 years ago

Madagascar protesters tear-gassed for third day

ANTANANARIVO (Reuters) - Police in Madagascar tear-gassed supporters of former president Marc Ravalomanana for a third successive day on Saturday to stop them gathering in the main square of the Indian Ocean island’s capital.

Thousands of pro-Ravalomanana supporters held a rally in an Antananarivo park — the sixth in six days — and then tried to reach the May 13 plaza where Madagascar’s new leader, Andry Rajoelina, had held months of protests prior to assuming power.

The security forces blasted tear gas canisters and fired some shots in the air as protesters repeatedly tried to force their way into the square.

The daily demonstrations against Rajoelina, who took power last week after Ravalomanana handed over to the army, have prolonged a political crisis since the start of 2009.

The unrest has killed 135 people in protests prior to Ravalomanana’s fall, scared tourists away, and unnerved foreign investors in the booming mining and oil exploration sectors.

Ravalomanana, 59, whom Rajoelina’s camp said was out of touch with the people and running Madagascar like a private business, is out of the country, rallying international support.

The African Union (AU) has suspended Madagascar, and foreign powers from the United States to the European Union have condemned the changeover in power as a coup d’etat.

Rajoelina, 34, a former disc jockey and successful businessman whose only prior political experience was a nearly two-year stint as Antananarivo mayor, is offering reconciliation talks and an election within two years.

Rajoelina told reporters on Friday the talks would consider a timetable for holding free and fair elections. Foreign nations have been urging him to hold a vote soon.

He said the members of the transition authority he heads would be in place on Monday and the government finalized on Wednesday. Rajoelina also announced cuts in the price of cooking oil, rice, bread and fuel.

Ravalomanana says he will only take part in dialogue if he is recognized as president still.

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