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Madagascar ex-president sentenced to life over protester deaths

A court in Madagascar [JURIST news archive] on Saturday sentenced former president Marc Ravalomanana [BBC profile] to life in prison with hard labor for ordering the killing of opposition protesters in February 2009. Ravalomanana, who has been living in South Africa since his ouster in March of last year, was sentenced in absentia [BBC report] on charges of murder and accessory to murder in connection with the deaths of at least 30 people by his presidential guard. The protesters were led by Andry Rajoelina [official profile, in French; BBC profile], who assumed power [JURIST report] after Ravalomanana's resignation. This is the third conviction [JURIST report] of Ravalomanana since he left power, and his lawyer claims that the trials have been politically motivated to keep him from returning to Madagascar and running for reelection.

Madagascar has been embroiled in political crisis since last year, as Rajoelina's regime has not been recognized by the international community. Earlier this month, the country's political parties gave proposed names [AFP report] for the country's next prime minister to Rajoelina. The parties also reached an accord calling for a constitutional referendum to be held on November 17, parliamentary elections in March and a first round of presidential polls next May. Rajoelina, the former mayor of Madagascar's capital city of Antananarivo, was fired as mayor [BBC report] in January 2009 following his declaration that he was in charge of Madagascar and his failed efforts to impeach Ravalomanana. Much of the public unrest stemmed from criticisms that Ravalomanana failed to alleviate poverty, as well as his unpopular decision to shut down a television station [BBC report] owned by Rajoelina after the station aired an interview with one of Ravalomanana's former adversaries.

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