March 27, 2009 / 2:12 PM / 11 years ago

Madagascar protesters tear-gassed again

* Army-backed new president took power last week

* Various protests since start of 2009

ANTANANARIVO, March 27 (Reuters) - Police in Madagascar tear-gassed supporters of former president Marc Ravalomanana at the end of a rally on Friday against the Indian Ocean island’s army-backed new government.

Reuters witnesses at the demonstration in a park of the capital Antananarivo — the fifth in five days — said police lobbed several canisters towards an estimated 6,000-strong crowd just as the rally was breaking up.

Security forces had shot in the air and also used gas on Thursday to stop some in the pro-Ravalomanana crowd heading for the May 13 plaza where Madagascar’s new leader, Andry Rajoelina, had held months of protest prior to assuming power.

“They again fired a few canisters,” said a Reuters reporter at the scene.

Demonstrations against Rajoelina, who took power last week after Ravalomanana handed over to the army, have prolonged a political crisis since the start of 2009.

The unrest has killed 135 people in protests prior to Ravalomanana’s fall, scared tourists away, and unnerved foreign investors in the booming mining and oil exploration sectors.

Ravalomanana, 59, whom Rajoelina’s camp said was out of touch with the people and running Madagascar like a private business, is out of the country, rallying international support.

The African Union (AU) has suspended Madagascar, and foreign powers from the United States to the European Union have condemned the changeover in power as a coup d’etat.

Rajoelina, 34, a former disc jockey and successful businessman whose only prior political experience was a nearly two-year stint as Antananarivo mayor, is offering reconciliation talks and an election within two years.

Ravalomanana says he will only take part in dialogue if he is recognised as president still. And foreign nations are pressing Rajoelina to organise a vote much quicker. (Reporting by Alain Iloniaina; Writing by Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Matthew Jones)

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