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CPJ seeks probe in killing of reporter in Madagascar protest

New York, February 9, 2009--Authorities in the Indian Ocean island of Madagascar must bring to justice members of the presidential guard responsible for the killing on Saturday of a journalist covering an antigovernment demonstration in the capital, Antananarivo, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. 

Ando Ratovonirina, 26, a reporter and cameraman for the private broadcaster Radio Télévision Analamanga (RTA), was struck in the head after soldiers opened fire on unarmed opposition demonstrators marching toward the presidential palace, according to witnesses. He was carrying a notebook and sound equipment, according to reporter Mirindra Raparivelo, who was filming the scene for the station. Raparivelo recalled the hiss of bullets and the smell of gunfire as he crawled to safety uninjured.

Ratovonirina is the first journalist killed in the line of duty in Madagascar since CPJ began keeping detailed death records in 1992.

Demonstrators march on the presidential palace. (AFP/Walter Astrada)

"We are shocked by the killing of Ando Ratovonirina and extend our condolences to his family and colleagues," said CPJ's Africa program coordinator, Tom Rhodes. "President Marc Ravalomanana's government must immediately investigate the shooting by members of the presidential guard and hold those responsible to account."

At least 25 people were killed and another 167 injured in the shootings, according to The Assiciated Press, although local journalists said the casualties could be higher. The country's defense minister resigned to protest the shootings, while the United Nations called for "a fair process by which those responsible will be brought to justice."

RTA Editor-in-Chief Andry Raveloson told CPJ that Ratovonirina was distinguished for his passion for journalism since joining the station in October 2008. "He had just completed his communications studies at the university and wanted to practice," Raveloson said. He said the young journalist had also worked for a local newspaper prior to joining the station. Ratovonirina's funeral will be Wednesday.

Saturday's demonstration came amid a deepening power struggle between President Ravalomanana and rival Andry Rajoelina, the mayor of Antananarivo. Rajoelina, an outspoken 34-year-old, has accused Ravalomanana of mismanagement and has demanded the president's resignation. Rajoelina has gone as far as declaring himself president and establishing a parallel government.

Last month, opposition protestors burned down the facilities of two pro-government broadcast companies in response to the government's closing of a TV station owned by the mayor. 

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