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Madagascan tensions eased with gov't-opposition compromise
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17:16, February 23, 2009

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The weeks-old tensions in Madagascar have developed a sign of let-up with the government and the opposition reaching a compromise at the weekend.

Opposition leader Andry Rajoelina announced the suspension of demonstrations planned for Sunday after the church-brokered deal with President Marc Ravalomanana.

The Christian Council of Churches said on Saturday the two leaders agreed to stop all kinds of provocation, including both demonstrations and arrests.

Both men also pledged to halt disinformation, looting and destruction of private and public property.

The government, on its part, has released dozens of demonstrators who occupied the government buildings on Thursday before being arrested the next day.

Calm has immediately returned to the Indian Ocean island state with the break in the deadly standoff since December.

The church mediation was the latest following efforts by the United States, the African Union and the Indian Ocean Commission.

The turmoil in the island of 20 million population shocked the world when clashes left heavy casualties.

On Jan. 26, riots erupted in the confrontation, with supermarkets looted and torched in Antananarivo, the capital and largest city in the island. Authorities said 76 people were killed and 86 injured.

The toll topped 100 on Feb. 7, when at least two dozen people were gunned down by soldiers on guard of the Presidential Palace. The slain protesters were reportedly attempting to storm into the residence of the head of state, which is officially defined as the "red line".

The bloodshed led to the resignation of Defense Minister Cecile Manorohanta two days later.

Madagascar's tensions began on Dec. 13, when the government closed Rajoelina's private television station Viva for broadcasting a speech by former President Didier Ratsiraka, whose dispute with Ravalomanana resulted in two governments after the 2001 election.

Ravalomanana was re-elected President after Ratsiraka fled to France in June 2002.

The closedown of the television station owned by Rajoelina, then mayor of Antananarivo, triggered a backlash with the 34-year-old man swiftly rallying support behind him.

Rajoelina accused Ravalomanana of corruption vowing to force him to step down, while declaring himself the interim leader before a general election. The government sacked Rajoelina afterwards.

Madagascar, which won independence from France in 1960, remains one of the least developed countries in the world, although the island state maintains an annual growth of over 6 percent in recent years. The country's plan for fast and sustainable development attracts support from the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and some developed countries.

The support was largely suspended amid the worsening crisis.


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