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Saturday, June 11, 2005

Calls for Peace After Deadly Clashes in Ethiopia

The government held opposition politicians responsible for clashes between police and protesters that left at least 29 people dead, but joined with the opposition in an appeal Friday for an end to the election-related violence.

Drawing international condemnation, police had opened fire on demonstrators who have been protesting since Monday. The protesters were angered by provisional results that indicated the ruling party was winner of the parliamentary polls. The opposition has charged the vote was flawed by fraud and violence.

In their first meeting since the violence started, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi's Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front and the two main opposition coalitions were to sign an agreement aimed at ending the violence. The governing party, and the opposition Coalition for Unity and Democracy and United Ethiopian Democratic Forces were pressed to meet by Ethiopia's donors.

"We need to stop the violence and we need to get the legal investigations into the election complaints back on track," said Hailu Shawel, who leads the largest opposition coalition, the Coalition for Unity and Democracy.

Both opposition groups called on the government to release supporters they said had been arrested.

The inter-party meeting "is an opportunity to restore order and maintain peace and we should take it," said Information Minister Bereket Simon, who also serves as spokesman for the ruling party.

Ana Gomes, the chief European Union observer said, "These commitments have to be accompanied by stopping the violence and the arrests and harassment of opposition parties. It is also very important that the opposition parties distance themselves from campaigns of ethnic hatred and calling for civil unrest."

Dr. Yerdaw Ashagari, the medical director of Menelik Hospital, where all the dead from the protests have been taken, said that the toll had risen to 29.

Earlier Friday, Bereket rejected international condemnation of the police crackdown, instead pointing to the opposition.

"Their objective was to undermine the electoral system and overthrow the government," Bereket said. "If anyone can stabilize this situation, it is the opposition, attention should be focused on them."

He added that if opposition leaders are found to have organized the protests, they would be arrested.

Shopkeepers kept their stores shuttered and taxi drivers stayed off the streets for a third day Friday in a strike to protest the crackdown.

Witnesses said earlier Friday that riot police and security forces rounded up several dozen men in central Addis Ababa on suspicion that they were protesters. The witnesses said that shots were fired, but it is unclear if anyone was injured.

Other witnesses said that some taxi drivers were arrested late Thursday in their homes because they refused to work.

Late Thursday the vice chairman of the Coalition for Unity and Democracy Berhanu Nega was prevented by security forces getting on to a plane to London, where he was to take part in fund-raising events for the opposition.

CNN.com

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