(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

'Violence could escalate'

The political turmoil engulfing Madagascar would result in more deaths if President Didier Ratsiraka and opposition leader Marc Ravalomanana did not resolve their differences, a diplomat warned on Wednesday after at least four people were killed in clashes with the military.

Reuters reported that 28 people were injured on Tuesday when security forces and opposition supporters clashed in the town of Fianarantsoa, about 300 km south of the capital Antananarivo.

AP, quoting a police officer who did not want to be identified, said the shooting occurred when the group encountered military police while marching toward the provincial governor's house to protest against an attack on three other opposition supporters.

The official death toll was put at four, but the opposition reported that six of their supporters were killed.

The diplomatic source told IRIN there were reports that the protestors were accompanying self-declared president Ravalomanana's recent appointment - a provincial governor - to the incumbent governor's house when the shooting occurred. While the army has not turned on protestors since the leadership crisis began more than three months ago, soldiers opened fire on Tuesday.

"The latest action by the soldiers loyal to Ratsiraka shows that they want to be taken seriously and there will be more deaths if both candidates don't sit down soon and come up with a plan," the source told IRIN.

On Tuesday a civic leader told IRIN that the emerging split in the national army between those loyal to Ravalomanana and those who support Ratsiraka could decide the outcome of the increasingly violent leadership battle.

"The recent unrest is largely due to uncertainty amongst the people, which is causing frustration. Until there is some clarity, people will go ahead and demonstrate. Also, the situation in the capital is very different from the provinces. There is no telling what will happen there because loyalty is so divided," the source said.

Ravalomanana and his appointees control the capital, while Ratsiraka and his cabinet have moved to Toamasina, from where they have ordered a blockade, preventing the delivery of fuel and essential supplies to Antananarivo.

Ravalomanana declared himself president in February, claiming to have won more than 50 percent of the vote. Official results showed he won more votes than Ratsiraka but less than 50 percent, forcing a run-off between the two men.

Most mass protests in support of Ravalomanana have been peaceful, but, reports AP, civil rights groups say about two dozen people have died in clashes between rival parties.

Fianarantsoa and the capital were calm on Wednesday, the diplomatic source told IRIN, but opposition supporters were planning mass protests.

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