Madagascar opposition decries 'state terrorism' after police kill 19

The leader of Madagascar's largest opposition party has accused the government of committing "state terrorism" after police shot dead 19 civilians angered by the abduction of an albino child.

"I am talking about state terrorism because it was the gendarmes and the police who fired on the population," Marc Ravalomanana, who leads the main opposition party, Tiako I Madagasikara, told the AFP news agency on Wednesday.

"They have to protect people and not shoot them. I'm very shocked," said the 72-year-old, who served as Madagascar's president between 2002 and 2009.

Police in the southeastern town of Ikongo opened fire on what was described as a lynch mob who stormed a police station, demanding to mete out justice to suspects arrested over the abduction.

Nineteen people were killed and 21 wounded, the police said.

The national police chief defended the officers, saying they acted in self-defence after a crowd armed with sticks and machetes tried to force its way into the station.

The government hit back at Ravalomanana for labelling the tragedy "state terrorism" without details of the circumstances surrounding the incident

It is "pure provocation", Communication Minister and government spokesperson Lalatiana Rakotondrazafy told AFP.

For such comments to come "from a former head of state who plans to run for re-election, and who ordered the shooting of a crowd in 2009, is inadmissible and it stirs up hatred among our compatriots," she said.

She was referring to the death of at least 68 people during a wave of rioting in January 2009 on the large Indian Ocean island nation, when Ravalomanana –– who was then head of state –– accused his main rival and now President Andry Rajoelina of stoking political unrest.

Authorities promise 'necessary sanctions'

Minister Rakotondrazafy said what happened in Ikongo was "regrettable"

"We deplore the loss of life," she said.

Authorities have opened an investigation into the incident, with Defence Minister Richard Rakotonirina vowing "necessary sanctions" would be taken.

Police have given no information about what happened to the four kidnap suspects, who were unaccounted for, according to local district gendarme commander Cyr Razafialison.

After the shooting, the officers involved had made a "strategic retreat" to a nearby town, he said.

Additional forces have been deployed "to keep the peace" in Ikongo, a town about 350 kilometres south of the capital Antananarivo.

Revenge attacks are common in Madagascar.

Ikongo saw 800 people barge into a prison in February 2017, in search of a murder suspect they intended to kill. They overpowered guards, allowing 120 prisoners to break out of jail.

In 2013, a Frenchman, a Franco-Italian and a local man accused of killing a child on the tourist island of Nosy Be were burnt alive by a crowd.

Some sub-Saharan African countries have suffered a wave of assaults against people with albinism, whose body parts are sought for witchcraft practices in the mistaken belief that they bring luck and wealth.

Source: AFP