November 10, 2010 / 3:55 PM / 8 years ago

Madagascar security forces fire teargas at protest

* Referendum on new constitution on Nov. 17

* Opposition parties have rejected political roadmap

By Alain Iloniaina

ANTANANARIVO, Nov 10 (Reuters) - Security forces in Madagascar’s capital fired teargas to disperse a march by members of the opposition on Wednesday, a week before the Indian Ocean island holds a referendum on a new constitution.

About a thousand opposition protesters gathered in the capital and tried to march towards a stadium to hold a rally but security forces fired about a dozen teargas canisters and chased them away from the area.

Madagascar has been in political gridlock since March 2009 when dissident soldiers backing then opposition leader Andry Rajoelina stormed one of Antananarivo’s two presidential palaces and forced President Marc Ravalomanana into exile.

Rajoelina was then named president but regional neighbours branded the takeover a coup, international donors froze aid worth hundreds of millions of dollars and the African Union later slapped sanctions on the continent’s youngest leader.

The referendum on Nov. 17 is meant to be the first step on the road to constitutional order on the world’s fourth largest island. It will be followed by legislative elections on March 16 and a presidential vote on May 4.

However, the country’s three main opposition groups have refused to accept the legitimacy of Rajoelina’s rule and are calling for a boycott of the referendum after rejecting the constitutional roadmap in August. [ID:nLDE67D04Z]

They are demanding a return to the negotiating table.

International mediators brokered a string of power-sharing deals between Rajoelina, Ravalomanana and two other former presidents last year, but they all collapsed after the bitter rivals failed to agree on how to share out the top posts.

The opposition march had been banned on Tuesday night by police chief Odilon Francis Rasoanaivo. He had urged the three opposition parties, each headed by a former president, to refrain from political demonstrations.

The Interior Ministry said on Oct. 28 that only public meetings about the electoral process would be authorised ahead of the Nov. 17 vote.

Rajoelina, a 36-year-old former disc jockey and mayor of Antananarivo, has said he will not contest the presidential election next year.

The political crisis has stunted growth in a country eyed by foreign firms for its oil, cobalt, nickel, gold and uranium deposits. The $8.6 billion economy shrank 0.2 percent in 2009 after posting 5.0 percent growth a year earlier. (Writing by David Clarke; editing by Philippa Fletcher)

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