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Thousands in Madagascar Attend Funeral for Protestor Slain in Riots

In Madagascar thousands of people have attended Wednesday the funeral of a demonstrator who was killed during two days of anti-government protests. At least 39 people reportedly died in the violence, many of them as they looted burning buildings in the capital.

Diplomats and relief officials reported an uneasy calm had returned to Madagascar's capital, Antananarivo, and that an overnight curfew had been widely respected. Several hundred protestors gathered to demonstrate in the city's main square but dispersed quietly.

Nevertheless, many offices and stores remained closed.

Mayor led funeral services for supporter killed during violence

The mayor of the city, Andry Rajoelina, led funeral services for a supporter who was killed during the violence. He told French radio that his group would continue to demonstrate against what he called the authoritarianism and inequities of the government of President Marc Ravalomanana.

He says his group wants democracy and an easing of tensions. The solution is a transitional government.

President Ravalomanana visited the burnt-out building of Madagascar's national broadcaster where he responded to questions over why security forces were slow to react to the violence and looting.

He says he gave the order for the military to use restraint. The situation had to be properly managed otherwise it would have been a bloodbath.

Both leaders called for calm and dialogue but said no talks had begun as yet.

The violence began Monday in the capital and spread the following day to several provincial cities.

Closing of radio station prompted incidents

In Antananarivo protestors Monday sacked and set afire the national broadcasting station and a private station owned by Mr. Ravalomanana. They then began looting stores, many of which were owned by the president, one of Madagascar's wealthiest businessmen.

The incidents began after the government closed a radio station owned by Antananarivo's mayor, Andry Rajoelina. This followed a rally Sunday during which the 34 year-old mayor accused the government of corruption and authoritarianism.

The confrontation began last month when the government briefly closed down Rajoelina's television station after it broadcast an interview with former President Didier Ratsiraka.

Ratsiraka has been in exile in France since disputed elections in 2002 divided the country for six months. The Supreme Court eventually ruled in favor of Mr. Ravalomanana. He won re-election two years ago.

The African Union Wednesday issued a statement expressing concern over the tensions and urging a resolution of the crisis through dialogue and respect for the constitution.