Calm in Madagascar as troops deployed to quell violent protests

Dozens of soldiers on Sunday temporarily threw a cordon around a public square in Madagascar's capital where opposition protests against new electoral laws have left two people dead in the restive island nation.

The soldiers later vacated the square in Antananarivo, clearing the way for some 100 opposition activists to gather, an AFP reporter at the scene said.

The demonstrators are protesting against new electoral laws that the opposition claim could stop some candidates from standing in upcoming presidential elections.

The large Indian Ocean island is due to hold polls in late November or December.

Two people died in violence on Saturday, hospital chiefs updated on Sunday, and at least 16 were wounded after clashes between thousands of opposition activists and security forces in the square.

Authorities had declared the Saturday protest illegal, but opposition activists defied the order.

"I came here to pay homage to those killed yesterday here," said protester Nirina, who refused to give her surname.

"I was afraid that there would be more deaths today, but fortunately the soldiers left," she added, saying that she thought more soldiers had been deployed.

She said she and other protesters were calling for President Hery Rajaonarimampianina "to resign".

Rajaonarimampianina, who returned on Sunday from a trip abroad, is expected to address the nation on Sunday night.

 'The worst regime' 

Elected in 2013, Rajaonarimampianina has not yet announced whether he will stand for re-election.

But two former heads of state have already mooted runs: Marc Ravalomanana, who was president from 2002 to 2009, and Andry Rajoelina, who removed him during a coup.

Both were barred from running in 2013 and their parties have been involved in the protests.

Madagascar endured several years of turmoil after Ravalomanana was ousted as president in the 2009 coup.

He was overthrown following an army mutiny that allowed Rajoelina - then Antananarivo mayor - to become the country's unelected transition president until 2014.

Rajaonarimampianina's arrival in power brought a temporary end to Madagascar's long series of political crises.

"I have lived under different regimes in Madagascar but it is this one, under Rajaonarimampianina, which is the worst," said protester Aime Abel Jocelyn, who travelled 500km from the town of Betroka.

"I came here to help bring change... to find a solution for my country."

The European Union mission in Madagascar in a statement called on the country's political actors to exercise restraint and expressed its support for "credible, transparent and inclusive presidential elections in 2018".

The African Union representative in Madagascar, Ahmed Youssouf Hawa, also called for calm, restraint and accountability.

"Madagascar does not need to plunge back into a difficult situation just a few months before the elections," he said in a statement.

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