Madagascar's president on Monday demanded an end to unrest he said was intended to divide the country after two demonstrators were killed in a confrontation between police and anti-government protesters at the weekend.
The violence has inflamed a political dispute over new electoral laws, and President Hery Rajaonarimampianina's remarks coincided with a march through the capital by thousands of anti-government demonstrators protesting against the deaths.
"As army chief, the president has not shed blood and will not shed blood," said Rajaonarimampianina, referring to himself in the third person in remarks on a visit to port project. "The blood has flowed enough in our country. It must stop. The violence must stop."
His remarks appeared to signal a change of tone from Sunday, when he described the protests as "a coup" and warned "those who sow unrest and incite people to tear each other apart" that the state would respond by assuming its responsibilities.
On Saturday, police fired teargas at an opposition demonstration held in protest against new electoral laws, where one person died and more than a dozen were treated for injuries, some caused by teargas canisters.
Another individual injured in Saturday's unrest, died on Sunday, Olivat Alson Rakoto, director of a hospital in the city, told Reuters.
On Monday, thousands of demonstrators, most of them dressed in white, assembled in front of the city hall and a public square, where the coffins of the two individuals killed at the weekend were placed on the ground, the Reuters witness said.
Supporters of opposition politician Marc Ravalomanana, a former leader of the Indian Ocean island nation, say the new electoral laws are designed to block him from running in the election. The opposition is also challenging provisions on campaign financing and access to media in the laws.
"We protest these laws that were adopted by corrupted members of parliament," said Christine Razanamahasoa, an opposition lawmaker.
Harivonjy Randriamalala, a 42-year-old father of three children, said: "We want the president to resign. We want freedom of speech. We want elections in which all people can run."
Ravalomanana, who was removed in a 2009 coup, has teamed up with the man who succeeded him, Andy Rajoelina, to oppose the laws pushed by President Hery Rajaonarimampianina.
The election is due before the end of this year though the precise date has yet to be set.
"I call on churches to convince those who are not yet convinced to engage in dialogue to find a solution to the crisis. If not, we can no longer contain (the anger of) the people," Ravalomanana said in a statement.
Before Monday's march began, General Beni Xavier Rasolofonirina, the defense minister, appealed to politicians to find an outcome that would avoid violence.
"The security forces invite politicians to discuss and find a political solution to a political problem. The police will never accept power that does not come from the electoral process," he said in a statement.
He said police would stay away from the area where people were marching.