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Rally adds pressure on Madagascan government

Madagascar's opposition leader Andry Rajoelina attended an anti-government rally today, his first public appearance since going into hiding more than a week ago.

Flanked by tight security, Rajoelina made a 'V' for victory sign from the stage to thousands of supporters thronging a central square in the capital Antananarivo that has been the epicentre of previous popular uprisings.

Opposition supporters, many wearing orange, had been dancing and singing as they waited for him to appear. There was a heavy military presence on the streets.

The Indian Ocean island's President Marc Ravalomanana is under growing pressure to quit as he loses control of the army and military police.

The political crisis has been running since the beginning of 2009, killing more than 135 people and damaging Madagascar's image as a sound destination for foreign investment.

Rajoelina, who was sacked as the capital's mayor, was placed under UN protection after apparent attempts to arrest him during a crackdown on his opposition movement.

His aides say there will be no talks to resolve the crisis, which has crippled the bio-diverse rich island's $390m (£279m) tourism sector, as long as Ravalomanana remains in power.

"There is no question of a resumption of talks for the moment," a source close to Rajoelina told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity. "The calls for the president to resign now come from all quarters, not just the opposition."

Pro-government supporters were also expected to hold a demonstration at the city's stadium a short distance away.

It was not clear how the security forces would react to today's rallies.

The army has become divided since dissident troops ousted the former chief of staff a day after he issued the island's feuding leaders a three-day ultimatum to end the impasse or face a military intervention.

Some among the mutineers have reiterated calls for the president's resignation.

The American envoy to Madagascar, Niels Marquardt, told Reuters yesterday he had been reassured by colonels behind the mutiny that they had no intention of launching a coup d'etat.