Antananarivo - A Madagascar court sentenced 21 people, including three opposition leaders, to suspended jail terms of six to 13 months for taking part in a banned demonstration, one of their lawyers said on Wednesday.

Among them is Fetison Rakoto Andrianirina, the former leader of a movement loyal to Marc Ravololomanana, who was the Indian Ocean island's president until Andry Rajoelina ousted him in March 2009 with the army's backing.

The group was accused of gathering illegally, resisting police orders and destroying public property at an anti-Rajoelina protest in November 2010.

“Fetison Rakoto Andrianirina was found guilty and sentenced to 13 months in prison,” his lawyer Hanitra Razafimanantsoa told AFP, adding that the group's defence team would appeal the ruling.

The 21 had been behind bars since November but Lalatiana Ravololomanana, who heads a committee in support of Andrianirina, said the top three political leaders were nevertheless released later on Wednesday.

She described the trial as “purely political”.

Rajoelina, a 36-year-old former disc jockey, has failed to secure international recognition since seizing power almost two years ago, plunging the island into a deep political and institutional crisis.

In an effort to rekindle moribund international mediation efforts, the Southern African Development Community's envoy, Leonardo Simao, last month proposed a roadmap to break the deadlock.

The document, which has not yet been endorsed by the relevant parties, calls for elections to be held this year and for charges filed against opposition members to be dropped. - Sapa-AFP