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Madagascar Capital Quiet in Anti-Government Protest

Witnesses in Madagascar's capital say most local business stayed closed Thursday, as residents heeded a call to stay home in an anti-government protest.

The streets of Antananarivo were virtually deserted in line with a request from opposition leader Andry Rajoelina, who accuses President Marc Ravalomanana of growing authoritarianism.

Rajoelina told VOA Thursday that he asked people to stay home to send a warning to the government. He said he is calling for the president to step down and for a transitional government to be setup.

Rajoelina - who is also the capital's mayor - has called for new protests on Saturday. He led a peaceful rally in the capital's main square Wednesday.

Police say anti-government protests that turned violent on Monday left at least 44 people dead. Rajoelina has condemned the violence and said Thursday that he has imposed a nighttime curfew in the capital.

In Washington Thursday, a spokesman for the U.S. State Department called on the leaders and people of Madagascar to exercise restraint and avoid all further violence.

Both Rajoelina and President Ravalomanana have called for calm and for dialogue, but no talks have been scheduled yet.

Rajoelina has said he will not meet with the president until the person responsible for the death of one of the mayor's supporters is brought to justice.

Since Rajoelina was elected mayor in late 2007, he has been an outspoken critic of the president. Tensions came to a head earlier this month when the government shut down his television station. The station is now back on the air.