Protesters take to the streets in response to martial law

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The Independent Online

Opposition supporters in Madagascar burnt down part of the military government's headquarters yesterday and built barricadesas tensions over the presidential election came to a head.

The violence erupted in the capital, Antananarivo, when martial law was officially introduced yesterday by President Didier Ratsiraka after two people were reportedly killed in political clashes last week. The unrest followed a decision by Marc Ravalomanana, the popular mayor of Antananarivo, to proclaim himself president nine days ago. He said he had won more than half the vote in December's election, rejecting the official results.

The past two months have been marked by massive, mainly peaceful, protests. But yesterday Mr Ravalomanana's supporters threw rocks and charged the government's headquarters, setting a building on fire. Soldiers dispersed the crowd by firing tear gas.

Most of the capital's streets were blocked by trenches and makeshift barricades as opposition supporters tried to prevent the army from deploying throughout the city before alternative ministers, appointed by Mr Ravalomanana, are installed today.

The official election results show neither Mr Ravalomanana nor the incumbent, Mr Ratsiraka, won 50 per cent of the vote. But the opposition leader insists he won outright and says he is the victim of electoral fraud. He has refused to take part in a run-off vote.

Mr Ratsiraka, 67, was Madagascar's military ruler for 17 years before winning elections in 1996.(AP)