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Up to 25 shot dead at Madagascar demo: police

ANTANANARIVO (Reuters) - Security forces killed up to 25 people in Madagascar on Saturday when they opened fire on an anti-government protest outside the presidential palace, a senior police officer at the scene said.

Madagascar's opposition supporters participate in a demonstration in the capital Antananarivo February 4, 2009. REUTERS/Rasoanaivo Clarel Faniry

Two weeks of civil unrest stoked by a power struggle between President Marc Ravalomanana and the sacked mayor of the capital Antananarivo, Andry Rajoelina, have killed some 125 people and worried companies investing in the Indian Ocean island.

One senior police officer, who asked not to be named, told Reuters by telephone from the scene that up to 25 people were killed when security forces opened fire on an opposition rally. Several shots rang out in the background and sirens wailed.

Rajoelina accused the government of murdering civilians: “The people were not armed, they only had their courage,” he said on his private Viva Radio immediately after the shooting.

Government officials could not immediately be reached for comment. Scores of injured people arrived bloodied at the city’s main hospital, some lying on stretchers in the corridors.

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“The crowd was walking peacefully, then all of a sudden the military opened fire,” Jocelyn Ratolojanahary told Reuters at the Ravoahangy Andrianavalona Hospital, nursing a bandaged hand. She said she saw several bodies lying back at the palace.

The opposition accuses Ravalomanana of being a dictator.

The president, who has galvanized the world’s fourth largest island’s reputation as a safe haven for tourists, denies it and has called for dialogue to end the bloodshed.

A week ago, Rajoelina, 34, declared he had taken power. At an earlier rally on Saturday, the former mayor -- who has led a series of anti-government strikes and protests -- named a prime minister. Ravalomanana says he is still in charge.

Madagascar has opened its doors to major foreign firms which are exploring for oil, gold, cobalt, nickel and uranium. Leaders from the continent meeting at an African Union summit in Ethiopia this week condemned the attempts to oust Ravalomanana.

Writing by Daniel Wallis; Editing by Matthew Jones