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Ethiopia: On the Edge
Jun 18, 2005 (050618)
(Reposted from sources cited below)
Despite the announced release of 336 detainees in Ethiopia on June
17, and renewed agreement by opposition and government parties to
await the results of investigations of election fraud, tension
continues high both in the capital and in many other areas of the
country. Critics charge that the international community is
downplaying government repression because of the strategic
importance of the country.
At a minimum, dozens of protesters have been shot, and thousands
detained this month, after a generally peaceful and open election
on May 15. The preliminary announcements of government victories
are unlikely to be reversed. But the hope of avoiding more violence
depends on whether the government proves more willing to accept
greater power-sharing and dialogue with opposition parties that
dominated the vote in Addis Ababa and demonstrated unexpected
strength in many other areas as well.
This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains a June 17 update from the UN's
Integrated Regional Information Networks, excerpts from a June 10
statement by the Network of Ethiopian Scholars, Scandinavian
Chapter, and a June 15 press release from Human Rights Watch.
For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on Ethiopia, and additional
references, including links to news sources, visit
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Ethiopia: Police Free 336 People Arrested During Political Unrest
UN Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN)
June 17, 2005
[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United
Ethiopian police have freed 336 prisoners seized in a government
crackdown during a week of political unrest in which at least 36
people were killed, officials said on Friday.
More people will be freed in the coming days, said government
spokesman Zemedkun Teckle after the first reported release since
the fighting broke out.
Human rights organisations said thousands of people had been
arrested across the country. The detentions were related to the 6-8
June demonstrations, when protestors took to the streets in Addis
Ababa to denounce alleged ballot rigging during parliamentary
elections on 15 May.
Police were unable to specify the exact number of people arrested.
"More people will be released," said Zemedkun. "Anyone found not to
have been involved in political unrest would be freed."
The move followed Britain's decision to freeze 20 million pounds
sterling (US $36 million) in aid to Ethiopia because of the
crackdown on the demonstrations.
The main opposition group, the Coalition for Unity and Democracy
(CUD), said that up to 120 of its staff throughout the country had
Berhanu Nega, vice chairman of the CUD, said its supporters must be
released if continued peace talks with the ruling party are to bear
The ruling Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front
(EPRDF) accused the opposition of instigating the violence, a
charge opposition leaders denied. The CUD, for their part, said the
government was guilty of electoral malpractice. The government
denied the allegation.
According to the state-controlled media, detainees who were
released were given a police warning instead of being charged in
"To stabilise the peace that is prevailing now in the city, the
federal police have released 336 detainees after investigating
their involvement in the violence of last week," the country's
federal police said in a statement broadcast by state media.
In a related development, the National Election Board has agreed to
probe accusations of poll malpractice in some 200 constituencies.
After reviewing the complaints lodged by political parties, the
head of the board, Kemal Bedri, said that almost 40 percent of the
contested seats merited investigation. The electoral board would
order new elections or recounts if necessary.
"We have an estimated figure of around 200 that we will
investigate," Kemal said on Thursday.
The board had been reviewing complaints in 299 of the 524
constituencies contested during the 15 May polls. Elections for the
remaining 23 seats of the 547-seat parliament will be held in
The ruling party has won 302 seats so far, and its allies garnered
21, according to provisional results. The opposition took 194 seats
in the lower house of parliament.
Political parties have lodged 61 types of complaints, which include
allegations of gunmen intimidating voters, people being forced to
vote for certain parties, ballot boxes being stuffed or
disappearing and the number of ballots exceeding that of registered
"What action we take will depend on the outcome of the
investigations," said election board spokesman Getahun Amogne. "We
can order re-elections or recounts," he added.
The board has set up 20 investigation teams comprised of both the
ruling party and the opposition. Observers from the African Union,
European Union and the Carter Center would be invited to witness
Ethiopian scholars on developments in Ethiopia
Press Statement by Network of Ethiopian Scholars (NES) -
June 10, 2005
[Excerpts. Full text available on http://www.ethiomedia.com.]
As independent academics working in higher education in
Scandinavia, deeply concerned about the fate of our people,
democratic transition and nation, we would like to express our deep
sorrow, shock and anger by the quick turn of events in Ethiopia
from expectations and hope that a new historical chapter would be
open in the ancient nation to the setback and step back to the ugly
and deeply offensive practice of the politics of cold-blooded
murder against innocent and unarmed students. We protested when
fellow academics were jailed and students were murdered in 2001.
Sadly once more we are forced to repeat and register to the world
yet another protest. We saw pictures of soldiers directing and
shooting at students within the columns of the closed gates of the
University. How can soldiers be unleashed to invade the university
at will and even choose to peep gun butts through the holes in the
columns of the gates to shoot to kill? Meles & Co. had been
students at the same university. Once upon a time they too
protested against such barbarity, now they sanction it, and even
perhaps as the opposition have reported, instigated it to
manufacture an artificial chaos in order to retain the
authoritarian alternative to the democratisation of power.
How we wish to see the day when the blood of the innocent young
people will stop from being spilt. We are unfortunately far away
from the scene where the bad news, and the pictures of horrifically
injured youngsters, mothers and fathers so humble and unassuming,
hurting with their noble gaze bewildered by the fate that befell
them, fiercely continues to pierce our heart, sapping our spirit,
depleting our energy and suffocating our conscience. Their agony
beckons us to act. The world must know in this 21st century that
values of human rights, democracy and governance are shared and
they are every ones concern now. ...We call the world to join us to
protest against injustice. Let not Ethiopia be forced once again to
suffer the agony of arrogant terror deployed so easily and
shamelessly by the ruling elite that seems to have lost backing
from the people during the current election ironically controlled
What is it about Ethiopia that makes it prone to take the wrong
historical turn every time it appears to make the correct turn?
Given Ethiopia is a country that has suffered for so long from red
and white terror, war and famine, unending humiliation and
prolonged dictatorship, what would it take to make it change from
using violence to make political transition to using democracy? How
can the people be so close to make the historic transition through
democracy and be denied from it and become cheated from
celebration? How cruel can it be of the regime to dangle the
democratic carrot and invade their peace with the armed stick? For
how long must our old nation endure such crude behaviour from those
who prefer to rely on army, police and armed violence to retain and
ascend to power rather the free expression of free people? Why
attempt to dam the historical opportunity to open a new and
peaceful transition from one set of parties to another.
Naively perhaps we all thought that members of the ruling party
might have recognised that after reaching nearly the same number of
years that the previous regime stayed in the palaces of Ethiopia,
they too might wish to think of history and not their belly and
their fat bank accounts. We thought they want to leave a legacy and
not a tragedy. ...
We are back to square one. The current ruling elites are no
visionaries. They cannot see how significant it is to seize the
historical opportunity of effectuating a political transition based
on democratic choice rather than through the usual military
methods. Of all the dangers facing our nation, it is this threat of
disrupting the historic opportunity for a peaceful transition that
is most unwelcome. This danger poses the gravest of all tasks for
all of us everywhere to resist any premature abortion to peaceful
and democratic transition. ...
Who Is Responsible for Killing Student Demonstrators?
Let us briefly show the chronicle of events from the pre-election
period to the present. This is how the turn of events took. Meles
and Bereket did not expect that the opposition would do so well and
even threaten their rule with the danger of a potential opposition
majority in parliament. They were deluding themselves that the
people are behind them. The chair of NES, spent five weeks in the
rural areas of northern Ethiopia and did not meet even one person
who had anything good to say about the regime. The vice-chair also
spent 18 months in different parts of Ethiopia and was surprised to
find that hardly anyone he came across showed any trust, respect or
support to the ruling party and its current leaders. People were
tired of their lies and their relentless bullying. Farmers were
demoralised. Business people were complaining of higher and unfair
taxation. People show their protest through various outlets. It was
clear that given a free and fair election, the opposition would win
with a landslide. The regime did not get this message. Meles & Co.
panicked. They seem to have resorted to classic Orwellian deceit.
They instigate and accuse the opposition of their own vice. They
lie and accuse the opposition for lying. They went for cheap
politics and quickly lost the entire plot. When they ordered shoot
to kill, they became hopelessly compromised losing any credibility
of claims to any higher purpose they like to embellish themselves.
The king has finally has no clothes.
Even before the election date, judging the public mood they
declared a state of emergency. They banned peaceful protest and
thus took anti-democratic measures. The message of danger grew even
more to their rule, when city after city began to fall to the
opposition. But as soon as they saw the election was going wrong
for their side, they accelerated the tense environment by spreading
rumours of violence, ethnic cleansing and the like. ...
What was remarkable was that the opposition continued to remain
largely unprovoked and strategic in the measures it took. It
behaved impeccably and with wisdom, responsibility and utmost
disciple and kept the faith that the country's historic
achievement, i.e., - the choice of a peaceful and not violent
political transition has finally arrived! Meanwhile in many rural
areas the ballot counting control mechanism has been very weak, the
Election Board has been accused of partisanship, so ballot rigging
became rife, and inspectors started giving contradictory signals
including former US president Jimmy Carter.
When the state of emergency lapsed students took to peaceful
protest. Meles declared another restrictive military control of the
situation, rather than allowing peaceful dialogue, freedom of
association, and democratic expression of peaceful protest. The
state of emergency created tension; the military style of governing
created even more problems by blocking the avenues of debate,
public participation and democratic celebration. The persistent and
further rumour of ethnic tension created unease. ...
We demand that:
- Meles and Co. immediately release the opposition leaders
- They immediately release the 500 students
- No Ethiopian deserves to die at this moment because they
exercised the right of peaceful democratic rights
- The contested seats be recounted expeditiously
- If the opposition is found winning, the regime hands power
peacefully to the opposition and the vice versa
- Call the army to return to the barracks.
- Those that ordered and killed the reported 26 students be brought
Once the expression of democratic will of the people is respected,
we call on opposition and Government to think of creating an
atmosphere for a national consensus on the major issues confronting
our nation at this point in its long history.
The light of democracy has encouraged us, and we like not to be
discouraged by dimming it with the current killing. We want
Ethiopia to experience what it never had in its long history- a
peaceful and lawful transition from one set of parties to another.
Democratic institutions alone can fix the destiny of the Ethiopian
nation. They alone can put behind us our numberless humiliations.
... We call upon all the people of the world, friends of Ethiopia,
friends of democracy, friends of those who suffered long and hard
humiliations and Governments, The UN and others to put maximum
pressure on Meles & Co. in order for Ethiopians to embark a new
democratic future and destiny.
Professor Mammo Muchie, Chair of NES-Scandinavian Chapter Berhanu
G. Balcha, vice- Chair of NES-Scandinavian Chapter
Contact address: Fibigerstraede 2 9220- Aalborg East Denmark Tel.
+ 45 96 359 813 Or +45 96 358 331 Fax + 45 98 153 298 Cell:+45 3112
5507 Email: email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
Ethiopia: Crackdown Spreads Beyond Capital
Human Rights Watch (Washington, DC)
June 15, 2005
As Arbitrary Arrests Continue, Detainees Face Torture and
In the wake of last week's election-related protests, the Ethiopian
government's crackdown on potential sources of unrest has spread
throughout the country, Human Rights Watch said today. While
international attention has focused on events in Addis Ababa,
opposition members and students in other cities are increasingly at
risk of arbitrary arrest and torture.
The current wave of arrests followed a chaotic week in Addis Ababa
that saw security forces put down a series of election-related
protests with excessive force. The disorder in the capital reached
a bloody peak on Wednesday, when security forces responded to
incidents of rock-throwing and looting by opening fire
indiscriminately on large crowds of people, killing at least 36 and
wounding more than 100.
The Ethiopian government has refused to accept any responsibility
for the shootings, insisting that the opposition Coalition for
Unity and Democracy (CUD) was wholly to blame because of its
alleged involvement in organizing the protests in defiance of a
citywide ban on demonstrations in the capital.
"Opposition rhetoric may well have contributed to last week's
unrest, but the government must take responsibility for the conduct
of its own security forces," said Georgette Gagnon, deputy Africa
director at Human Rights Watch. "The security forces have killed
dozens of protesters and arbitrarily detained thousands of people
across the country."
Since protests over alleged electoral fraud in the country's May 15
elections erupted last week in Addis Ababa and several other towns,
police and other security officials have detained several thousand
people throughout Ethiopia. Many of those swept up in the initial
round of mass arrests in the capital and elsewhere have since been
released, but smaller-scale arrests targeting CUD supporters and
student activists have continued unabated.
The Ethiopian Constitution mandates that detainees be taken to
court within 48 hours of their arrest and informed of the reasons
for their detention. However, almost none of the people swept up in
the past week's arrests have been brought before a judge.
The situation of individuals detained in towns relatively far from
the capital is of particular concern, as little is known about
their total numbers, the reasons for their arrest or the conditions
under which they are being held. Local officials in many towns have
cast a very wide net, arbitrarily detaining individuals they
suspect of being sympathetic to last week's demonstrations. Most of
these detainees are locally prominent CUD members and students.
"Given the Ethiopian security forces' long record of detainee
abuse, there is every reason to worry that those arrested are being
mistreated," Gagnon said. "This is especially true for those who
have been detained in towns far from the media spotlight that has
focused on Addis Ababa in recent days."
Human Rights Watch has obtained reports of mass arrests in at least
nine cities outside of Addis Ababa since last Monday. In Gondar,
Bure, Bahir Dar, Debre Markos, Dessie and Awassa, several hundred
students were arrested after police forcibly put down peaceful
election-related student demonstrations. Police subsequently
released many of those detained, but at least several dozen
students remain in detention without charge.
In addition, security forces in Gondar, Dessie, Wondo Genet,
Kombolcha and Jinka have arrested several dozen locally prominent
CUD members over the course of the past several days. Unconfirmed
reports of arrests following a similar pattern have emerged from
several other towns. Government officials have offered no public
acknowledgement of or explanation for any of these arrests.
Security forces have also continued to arrest large numbers of CUD
supporters in the capital over the course of the past several days.
They have also detained three investigators for the Ethiopian Human
Rights Council, all of whom had been working to gather information
about the continuing arrests.
Large numbers of prisoners are being held at the Ziway detention
facility, about 150 kilometers south of the capital. The total
number of detainees being held there is unknown, and the government
has not allowed any outside groups to access the facility. Some of
the students recently released from the Sendafa detention facility,
40 kilometers north of Addis Ababa, after being detained last
Monday reported that they were forced to perform a series of
exhausting drills and exercises as a form of punishment.
"The Ethiopian security forces' long history of mistreating
detainees arrested for political reasons is hardly a secret," said
Gagnon. "The international community should call on the Ethiopian
government to immediately open up these detention facilities to
On several occasions over the course of the past four years, police
beat and tortured large numbers of university and secondary school
students they arrested following student protests in Addis Ababa
and in towns throughout Oromia region. Many of those student
detainees were kept in prison for weeks or months without ever
being brought before a judge. Security forces have subjected other
perceived dissidents to similarly abusive treatment and prolonged
periods of arbitrary detention.
Last week's bloodshed in Addis Ababa was also not the first time
that Ethiopian security forces have killed large numbers of
protesters. In April 2001, police killed more than 30 people and
wounded an estimated 400 more in putting down a student
demonstration at Addis Ababa University. And in May 2002, police
opened machine-gun fire on protesters in Awassa, killing an
estimated 38 people.
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