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Madagascar Opposition Calls General Strike to Drive President From Office

From Times Wire Services

The opposition Sunday called for a general strike to drive President Didier Ratsiraka from office, one day after his presidential guards fired on protesters.

The government acknowledged that 11 people died Saturday when Ratsiraka’s guards fired at 400,000 protesters marching to his palace. It was the worst violence of the 2-month-old opposition campaign against him.

The opposition put the death toll at 12 and said six other protesters died in clashes with security forces in Mahajanga, north of the capital of this Indian Ocean island nation.

There was no immediate confirmation of the new report. The capital, Antananarivo, was reported calm Sunday.

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A six-party opposition coalition has been organizing protests almost daily to demand democratic reforms and an end to 16 years of Ratsiraka’s socialist rule in the former French colony.

The opposition gained a new ally Sunday when the National Council of Christian Churches, which had sought to mediate, said it stands with the government opponents.

In a communique read to tens of thousands of supporters in the capital, the opposition called for intensified demonstrations and an unlimited general strike at all banks, businesses and public agencies to begin today until Ratsiraka gives up office.

The first potential victim of the strike appeared to be Antananarivo’s airport. Western diplomats, contacted by telephone, quoted government officials as saying it would probably be closed to international traffic today.

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