People view four of at least eight dead bodies at Black Lion Hospital in the third day of escalating violence on the streets of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Wednesday, June 8, 2005. Scores of students were also being treated for serious gunshot wounds and other injuries at the hospital in Addis Ababa . The clashes erupted out of student protests over alleged irregularities in Ethiopia's May 15 national elections. (AP Photo)
Security forces opened fire on stone-throwing demonstrators Wednesday in Ethiopia, leaving at least 24 people dead in a third day of protests over election results, hospital officials said.
Dozens of people mostly young men were wounded by gunfire.
The government said its security forces acted to restore order and that it did not immediately have casualty figures.
An Associated Press reporter saw 11 bodies at the capital's main hospital, at least four with gunshot wounds to the head, and was told they were only some of the casualties. Doctors at two others hospitals reported receiving 13 bodies and hundreds of injured.
Information Minister Bereket Simon, who is also the ruling party spokesman, said he did not have an accurate death toll but blamed the opposition Coalition for Unity and Democracy for the protests.
"Today, some of their followers and some who wanted to use this opportunity for looting have gathered in some parts of Addis and disrupted the smooth functioning of life. So the government had to use the anti-riot police to resolve the situation," Bereket said, adding that seven buses were destroyed and businesses and banks were damaged.
Bereket rejected claims the police used excessive force.
"These people were committed to disrupting the smooth functioning of civil life and law and order, so we had to protect people," he said.
The protests came despite Prime Minister Meles Zenawi's move to ban demonstrations immediately after the May 15 legislative election, in which his party won a majority of seats, according to official results. Opposition parties alleged widespread fraud and intimidation, charges the ruling party denies.
A Coalition for Unity and Democracy leader said the party was not behind the strike.
"Our sense is that the government is deliberately targeting us and fomenting violence to stop the electoral process and then blaming it on the opposition," said Vice Chairman Berhanu Nega. "We have been saying all along that the public must be calm and patient and wait for the outcome of the investigations into the election."