Protesters storm Madagascar jail

2013-03-05 19:04
(Andreea Campeanu, AFP)

(Andreea Campeanu, AFP) (Andreea Campeanu)

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Antananarivo - Madagascar prison guards shot dead a protester when a hundreds-strong mob stormed a jail holding the alleged killers of a strangled French nun, police said on Tuesday.

The crowd tried to force the prison gates late on Monday after the funeral of Marie Emmanuel Helesbeux, 82, in the north-eastern town of Mandritsara, said local gendarmerie commander Leon Andriamanantena.

"Hundreds, even thousands of people tried to invade the prison with projectiles and we couldn't do anything because we didn't have teargas," Andriamanantena told AFP.

"The prison guards opened fire in self-defence. One person died and two were wounded seriously," he said.

The body of Sister Emmanuel, a popular Catholic nun, was found on Saturday at a cattle market.

A former guard at her house allegedly lured her to the secluded spot with two accomplices, where she was held down and strangled.

The three were later arrested.

Money was the motive for the crime, police said.

Sister Emmanuel had asked her guard Bernard Ratsimbazafy, 35, to sell some houses she owned, but he instead rented them out secretly.

Fluent Malagasy

Ratsimbazafy then cooked up the plan when she asked him for the money from the sale, according to authorities.

He allegedly conspired with two friends, hairdresser Etienne Rakotozara, and butcher Richard Rabemorasata, both aged 26.

The former guard phoned the nun on Friday saying his daughter was ill.

The three then brought her to the market, a spot where local cattle "zebu" are sold but which is entirely secluded at night.

The killers tore off one of her arms in the brutal killing.

"They tortured her," said Sister Anne-Francoise, a friend.

The three were arrested between Saturday and Sunday and confessed to the crime, police said.

Originally from the west of France, Sister Emmanuel came to Madagascar in 1971 and worked as a nurse.

She helped the Indian Ocean island's poor, even after her retirement in 1991, and spoke fluent Malagasy.

Mass outrage

She was extremely popular with local residents, and her death sparked mass outrage. On Sunday hundreds protested outside the police station where the alleged murderers were kept.

The suspects were then transferred to the prison over safety concerns.

Around 2 000 people attended her funeral on Monday, then a crowd marched on the prison with rocks and sticks, demanding access to get at the accused.

They also pillaged shops and set fire to the three suspects' houses overnight, said police commissioner Eric Benty.

"We didn't arrest anyone to avoid the crowd's anger."

The three men were transferred "very, very far away from Mandritsara yesterday [Monday] evening," he told AFP without giving further details.

An uneasy calm returned after about 15 protesters were allowed into the prison to confirm the three men were not there any more, added Benty.

In Madagascar criminals are exposed to lynchings. Thieves, murderers or drivers who knock over pedestrians have been killed in incidents of mob justice.

Read more on:    madagascar  |  southern africa

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