A Canadian clergyman has been killed in Madagascar during a gun battle between supporters of rival factions as political turmoil worsens in the island nation.

Witnesses say the 72-year old man was killed by a stray bullet while in his residence today (Friday) in the city of Fianarantsoa as troops loyal to incumbent President Didier Ratsiraka and supporters of self-proclaimed opposition President Marc Ravalomanana fought in the streets.

Meanwhile, the U-S State Department urged both President Ratsiraka and Mr. Ravalomanana to accept an invitation from Senegal's President Abdoulaye Wade to go to Dakar for talks on neutral soil. The U-S says it is deeply concerned about the deteriorating situation in Madagascar.

The on-going political struggle has turned violent in recent days and observers fear the dispute could evolve into all -out civil war.

Madagascar has been in a state of political unrest since December's disputed presidential election between President Ratsiraka and Mr. Ravalomanana.

The country's Supreme Court decided that neither candidate won a majority of the ballots, and ruled that a second round of voting would be necessary. However, Mr. Ravalomanana refused to accept the ruling and two months ago declared himself head of state.

The international community has refused to recognize Mr. Ravalomanana's action. President Ratsiraka says the dispute should be settled by the court-ordered run-off vote.

(afp,reuters,State Dept.,MISNA.org,prev, files)