March 28, 2009 / 4:54 PM / 10 years ago

UPDATE 2-Thirty-four protesters hurt in Madagascar's capital

* Sixth day of protests by pro-Ravalomanana supporters

* Tear gas and shots fired by security forces

* 34 injured

* Former president vows to return soon

(Adds message from Ravalomanana, other details)

By Alain Iloniaina

ANTANANARIVO, March 28 (Reuters) - Thirty-four people were injured on Saturday in Madagascar’s capital during protests by supporters of former president Marc Ravalomanana, according to a local hospital.

Thousands of pro-Ravalomanana supporters held a rally in an Antananarivo park — the sixth in six days — and then tried to reach the May 13 Plaza, where Madagascar’s new leader, Andry Rajoelina, held months of protests before assuming power.

The security forces blasted tear gas canisters at the throng and fired shots in the air as protesters repeatedly tried to force their way into the main square.

In a short recorded message broadcast on a private television channel in Madagascar, Ravalomanana urged his supporters to continue protesting so the world could see that they would not accept an illegitimate government.

“Don’t be afraid of anything. I will return soon,” Ravalomanana, who fled Madagascar after stepping down and visited Swaziland last week. “Never accept oppression.”

The Ravoahangy Andrianavalona Hospital said 34 were injured, including two children aged 12 and 14, although 21 had already been discharged. The details were given in a statement posted at the entrance to the hospital.

ELECTIONS

The daily 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.

Unrest in the buildup to Ravalomanana’s fall killed 135 people, scared tourists away, and unnerved foreign investors in the booming mining and oil exploration sectors.

Ravalomanana, 59, who Rajoelina’s camp said was out of touch with the people and running Madagascar like a private business, is outside 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 transfer of 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 mayor of Antananarivo, is offering reconciliation talks and an election within two years.

Rajoelina told reporters on Friday the talks would consider a timetable for holding free and fair elections. Foreign nations have been urging him to hold a vote soon.

He said the members of the transition authority he heads would be in place on Monday and the government finalised on Wednesday. Rajoelina also announced cuts in the price of cooking oil, rice, bread and fuel.

Ravalomanana says he will only take part in dialogue if he is recognised as still president.

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