Monday, June 06, 2005

500 Held as Students Protest at Election

Ethiopian policemen look at students demonstrating at a campus of the Addis Ababa university, Ethiopia. A high school girl was killed and more than 500 people arrested as Ethiopian police clashed with students protesting last month's disputed general elections in defiance of a government ban on demonstrations, officials said.(AFP/Lea-Lisa Westerhoff)

POLICE surrounded Ethiopia's largest university yesterday and arrested hundreds of students who defied a government ban and protested against the results of the country's disputed legislative elections.

Police charged into crowds at Addis Ababa University to grab protesters and beat some with batons during the first public protest against the elections held on 15 May.

Special forces troops stood by, armed with assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades. Riot police with tear gas and a water cannon were also on hand as regular police quelled the demonstration.

Demonstrations have been banned since election day, when the capital's police were put under the control of Meles Zenawi, the prime minister.

Mr Meles's party retained control of parliament according to official election results that have not yet been ratified, but opposition parties alleged there was widespread election fraud.

The elections had been seen as a test of Mr Meles's commitment to reform his sometimes authoritarian regime.

Before questions surfaced about the count, European Union observers had called the campaign and voting "the most genuinely competitive elections the country has experienced".

Police detained an estimated 500 protesters. They arrested between 200 and 300 who were barring students from entering the university yesterday, said Bereket Simon, the minister of information, who is also a spokesman for the ruling Ethiopia People's Revolutionary Front.

Ethiopia's state radio later reported that 370 students were arrested and 50 "hooligans" were also detained for attempting to take advantage of the chaos.

Hundreds of police had sealed the main roads leading into the capital's university.

Clashes reportedly spread to other city campuses later yesterday, and police fired tear gas at students at a teacher's college. Female students could be heard screaming as riot police stormed into the campus. The capital's university campuses have about 20,000 students.

The ruling party spokesman said the main opposition Coalition for Unity and Democracy was behind the protests.

"They have been preaching violence and now they are instigating it. The responsibility for what has happened falls on their shoulders," he said.


No comments: