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Police attack protesters in Madagascar

ANTANANARIVO, Madagascar, March 28 (UPI) -- Police used tear gas and gunfire Saturday to disperse tens of thousands of people who turned out in support of former President Marc Ravalomanana in Madagascar.

Ravalomanana reportedly flew to South Africa from Swaziland Saturday, Xinhua reported.

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Demonstrators gathered at the city's central park and marched to a square that is a popular spot for demonstrations, where they encountered the police.

There were unconfirmed reports several protesters were shot dead or injured during the confrontation, the state-run Chinese news service said.

The BBC said 34 people had been injured, some by gunshots. The British network said it was unclear whether security forces were shooting in the air or at the protesters.

Xinhua said a private radio network, Antsiva, reported police and armed troops dispersed the demonstrators to avoid possible killings, mass looting and robberies by criminals taking advantage of the confrontation between the two sides.

The BBC, which pegged the crowd at about 15,000 on the sixth straight day of protests, said a general strike has been called for Monday.

Andry Rajoelina proclaimed himself president of the country in February and Ravalomanana resigned March 17 after handing over his presidency to a military executive committee led by Navy Adm. Hyppolite Ramaroson.

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Ramaroson transferred the presidential power to Rajoelina just a few hours later and the courts legalized his presidency the next day.

Xinhua also reported the French-language daily Midi reported Saturday that Madagascan ambassadors to South Africa, Belgium, France, Ethiopia and Germany were fired Friday. No replacements had been named.

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