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Rioting Death Toll Jumps as Madagascar President Calls for Unity

Madagascar's president is appealing for calm and dialogue with the opposition in the wake of Monday's deadly riots, even as officials say the death toll from the unrest is much higher than previously known.

In a radio interview Tuesday, President Marc Ravalomanana called for national unity to restore peace and security to the capital, one day after a protest by thousands of opposition supporters turned violent.

Opposition leader Andry Rajoelina, mayor of the capital city, Antananarivo, called off demonstrations scheduled for today and put off planned talks with the government. He said he will not meet with President Ravalomanana until the person responsible for the death of one of the mayor's supporters on Monday is brought to justice.

Meanwhile, the death toll has increased. Fire officials say they found more than 20 charred bodies in the ruins of a department store that was looted and burned on Monday.

Earlier, officials said two people were killed during the chaos. Witnesses say looting of shops was widespread, and fires broke out in several parts of the city.

Residents say an opposition-owned radio station, Viva FM, shut down just before the riots, has gone back on the air. The closure of opposition broadcasters was a key issue behind the protests that led to the unrest.

At a rally Monday, the opposition leader called on the government to resign, accusing the president of growing authoritarianism.

After the rally, protesters blocked streets, demanding a new government and the return of an opposition TV station, Viva TV, taken off the air last month.

The violence erupted after a call from the opposition leader for a general strike. Political tensions have reached the highest level seen in years.

President Ravalomanana has said the civil disobedience amounted to a coup.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.