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Martial Law Follows Violent Clashes in Madagascar Capital


The president of Madagascar has declared martial law in the capital, a day after violent clashes erupted between supporters of the opposition and the government.

President Didier Ratsiraka told reporters he was declaring martial law with "great sadness." But he said the move was necessary to prevent more violence like the clashes that rocked the capital, Antananarivo, on Wednesday.

The president named an army general, Leon-Claude Raveloarison, to be the military governor of the capital city.

Antananarivo is a major stronghold of opposition leader Marc Ravalomanana, who is the mayor of the capital.

For weeks, Mr. Ravalomanana's supporters have taken to the streets in massive protests, essentially shutting down the city center. The mayor has also called a general strike, which has crippled the economy.

On Friday, Mr. Ravalomanana declared himself president. The move was widely condemned by the international community.

He claims he won the first round of voting in December's presidential elections, and that Mr. Ratsiraka rigged the vote to deny him an outright victory.

According to official results, Mr. Ravalomanana took 46 percent of the vote, compared to 40 percent for Mr. Ratsiraka. The High Court has refused to declare a winner since neither man took more than half the votes, and a second round of elections was scheduled.

But Mr. Ravalomanana claims he actually won 52 percent, and he is refusing to take part in a second round. He has ordered his supporters to go on strike and take to the streets.

Until Wednesday, the protests were remarkably peaceful.

But then, running battles erupted on the streets of Antananarivo. The violence flared after about 150 government supporters marched through the streets of the city, running into a much larger crowd of Mr. Ravalomanana's supporters.

At least 10 people were seriously injured in the clashes, and there are conflicting reports about whether anyone died.

In declaring martial law, President Ratsiraka said he hopes the move will force Mr. Ravalomanana back to the negotiating table. He denied opposition claims that he had paid his supporters to cause trouble.

It is not yet clear how the news is being received in Antananarivo. It may be a while before people are aware of it, the general strike has shut down the national television station, and the national radio station is only operating intermittently.

Opposition supporters set fire to a pro-government radio station in the capital during Wednesday's violence. Mr. Ratsiraka imposed a curfew in the city, but it was not enforced Wednesday night.

Thursday's protest was again peaceful, although it was much smaller than on previous days. Under martial law, such protests will be banned.

The question now will be whether Mr. Ravalomanana's supporters will stay home Friday. If they do not, it is not yet clear what the army will do about it.

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