Supporters of Madagascar ex-leader defy protest ban

Several thousand supporters of Madagascar’s former president, Marc Ravalomanana, defied a ban on demonstrations imposed by the government on Tuesday and rallied behind the ousted leader.

Andry Rajoelina’s (pictured) administration suspended the right to protest after two people died when security forces fired tear gas and warning shots on Monday at people demonstrating over the closure of Ravalomanana’s television and radio stations, Reuters says.

Prayers were said for the dead. A national flag was draped over the body of one victim, believed to be a 25-year-old man, which mourners carried into a park in the centre of the capital Antananarivo.

Witnesses said there was no sign of the police or military near the rally, but the crowd was smaller than usual at the near-daily opposition gatherings.

Monday’s violence raised the spectre of a return to the civil unrest that killed 135 people and scared off tourists from the Indian Ocean island during the weeks-long power struggle which culminated in Ravalomanana’s resignation.

He stepped down last month after dissident soldiers swung behind Rajoelina and is now in exile in southern Africa.

“All demonstrations are banned, including those in support of Andry Rajoelina, in order to restore law and order,” Prime Minister Roindefo Monja said during a cabinet meeting open to reporters.

The government did not say when the ban would be lifted.

The prime minister said Monday’s disturbance was designed to sully the interim administration’s reputation and was no reflection of democracy in Madagascar.

Earlier, a notice board outside a city centre hospital on Tuesday morning listed two deaths and 20 injured patients.

Ravalomanana, 59, who has been lobbying African leaders and diplomats from exile, claims he remains the legal head of state.

A dairy tycoon and self-made millionaire, Ravalomanana has said he hopes to return to the world’s fourth largest island within a few weeks with help from the African Union (AU) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

Rajoelina’s government said on Tuesday it had received assurances from SADC that it would not launch military intervention to help Ravalomanana return.

“(SADC) affirmed it had no intention of sending a military force to accompany Ravalomanana back,” Foreign Affairs Minister Ny Hasina Andriamanjato told reporters.

Ravalomanana’s bid to return risks stoking tension and triggering more violence.

The international community widely condemned Rajoelina’s military-backed rise to power. Both the AU and SADC have suspended Madagascar and several donors have frozen aid.

Rajoelina, Africa’s youngest incumbent president at 34, has pledged elections in October 2010, but Ravalomanana says a poll is needed this year to haul Madagascar out of the crisis.