Thursday, June 09, 2005

Chairman Smith Calls on Ethiopian Government To Cease and Desist Violent Response to Protests

Office of Rep. Chris Smith (R - NJ)
Washington, DC

Congressman Chris Smith (R-NJ), Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Africa, Global Human Rights and International Operations, has called on Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi to call off security forces, who by Wednesday evening had killed scores of peaceful protesters, wounded at least 100 others and jailed more than 400 Ethiopians protesting the results of the recent elections in that East African nation.

"I urge the Prime Minister to rein in his security forces and allow the people of Ethiopia to exercise the rights fundamental to democracy," Chairman Smith said. "The right to protest is a universal concept protected worldwide and has to be respected in Ethiopia as well."

There has been growing unrest amongst Ethiopia's 72 million citizens since the end of the May 15th legislative elections. Partial results show that the opposition parties won nearly 200 seats and may have won far more, depending on the results of challenges lodged in 299 constituencies. The ruling coalition claims to have won 328 of the seats in the 547-seat lower house of Parliament, while the opposition parties officially have won 194 seats - up from the 12 seats they won in 2000 elections. The opposition party coalition believes it has won a majority of seats and has filed 139 challenges to election results across the country. The ruling party coalition has filed 60 election challenges.

"The European Union, which monitored the Ethiopian elections, declared that there were significant irregularities. Clearly, there are legitimate concerns about the results of the May 15th elections, and citizens should have the right to challenge results they feel to be incorrect. Those challenges must be taken seriously, and if the evidence shows there was fraud that skewed the results, those elections should be rerun so that citizens have their right to vote honored," Chairman Smith said.

The current violence began last Sunday when police reportedly went onto the campus of Addis Ababa University to arrest students who had been protesting the disputed results of the May elections. According to Ethiopian opposition party representatives, police began beating and shooting students and were met with resistance from construction workers and passersby who watched their actions. Protests expanded in the hours following the initial police operations and have worsened. By Wednesday, the Ethiopian government had declared martial law, and arrests and shootings by authorities reportedly increased. There are unconfirmed reports that the death toll in the anti-protest violence may have reached as high as 60 persons.

Wire services are reporting that in the third day of continuing protests, taxi drivers and shop keepers have begun an informal strike. Other reports indicate that people are stoning buses, bringing transportation and a large segment of the city's commerce to a halt in Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital. There are reports that the protests and resulting violence have spread to provincial towns and even into rural areas.

"President Bush must take all necessary steps to persuade the Ethiopian government to immediately halt the state-sponsored violence in Ethiopia, which it has declared to be a strategic country for America's Africa policy," Chairman Smith said.

The Subcommittee on Africa, Global Human Rights and International Operations held a May 13th hearing on the Ethiopia-Eritrea border conflict that also examined human and civil rights issues and the challenges to democratization in both countries.

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