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Monday, June 20, 2005

Anguish Over Ethiopia's Disappeared

BBC NEWS -- Tigist Shiferow (not her real name) last saw her husband on 8 June.

He was arrested a few minutes after he left their family home in Addis Ababa at 1700 that day, and he has not been seen since.

He was one of the thousands arrested after post-election demonstrations that left at least 36 people dead.

The unrest in the city was sparked over alleged irregularities during the country's general elections on 15 May.

In total about 3,000 people were arrested in Addis Ababa, according to the Minister for Information, Bereket Simon.

About 700 people have now been freed, but that is little comfort to Tigist, 28.

Tigist starts crying as she explains that she doesn't know why her 38-year-old husband was arrested.

"I am very upset - it was totally unexpected," she says.

Unexpected

"My seven-year-old daughter keeps asking where her father is but I don't know and I don't know when he will come back."

Many families across the city are in similar situations. Human rights groups say their loved ones just disappeared and the majority have not been seen since.

"People are trying to find out where their loved ones are by visiting different detention centres," says Adam Melaku, the secretary-general of the Ethiopian Human Rights Council.

Activists arrested

"We have six people from the Ethiopian Human Rights Council arrested and we do not know where they are. We hope they are alive.

"One of our investigators was taken from his home last Wednesday at 2100 by uniformed police and two were taken last Monday at 1730 when they came out of their office at the Lalibela Hotel," Mr Adam continued.

"We don't know where they took them and we don't know where they are. Three of our committee members were also taken from Dessie."

Mr Adam said this would change Ethiopia's image abroad.

"The world was thinking that Ethiopia was on the right road to democratisation but now I think from the international media that the world is losing hope on what democratisation in Ethiopia is, and its direction."

Aid freeze

UK Development Minister Hilary Benn said recently the British Government would be freezing $36m (£20m) of additional aid that had been earmarked for Ethiopia, and was waiting to see how the situation developed.

Mr Bereket said the Ethiopian government realised the country's image had been tarnished by recent events but defended the actions taken to deal with the demonstrators.

"We are not happy that people have died. We are not happy that Ethiopians are being detained - some of those for reasons they don't stand genuinely for - but this is a country which needs to move forward, which needs to guard itself from anarchy taking over.

"If you allow violence and anarchy to reign in this country the result - that we have managed to avert - will take place and that, I assure you, would be very very disastrous," he added.

The National Electoral Board has now launched investigations into complaints made in 151 of the country's 547 parliamentary constituencies.

The official election results are due to be announced on 8 July.

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