Saturday, June 18, 2005

Ethiopia Police to Let Red Cross, Families Visit Detainees

Sudan Tribune -- Ethiopian police were set Saturday to allow Red Cross workers and family members to visit thousands of detainees rounded up in a crackdown on post-election violence that wracked the Horn of Africa country last week and left 36 people dead.

Federal Police Commissioner Workenhe Gebeyohe said late Friday authorities had decided to ease access to the detention facility in Zewai, 225 kilometers (150 miles) south of Addis Ababa, where 3,130 people are held.

"As of now, the detention centre will be open to the international and national Red Cross and family members even before we press charges against those proved to have been involved," Workenhe said in a televised press conference.

He said authorities have so far released 690 detainees, after investigations revealed that they had nothing to do with the deadly clashes that were sparked by protests against alleged fraud in May 15 polls.

"We will keep releasing all those people who had nothing to do with activities of violence," he said, explaining that police had obtained court permission to keep the detainees in custody to facilitate investigations.

Those held were reported to include scores of opposition party employees and at least three investigators with the Ethiopian Human Rights Council (EHRCO) who were probing alleged abuse of people arrested.

According to opposition parties, which the authorities have accused of inciting the violence, more than 3,600 opposition activists and supporters are being held.

On Monday, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi extended by one month a ban on demonstrations in the capital. The ban will now stay in place until at least July 8, when the national election board is scheduled to issue final results from the election.

The May 15 polls were the third since Meles came to power in 1991 and the first to be monitored by international observers. Provisional results gave victory to the ruling Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) but with a greatly reduced majority, and opposition parties claim they were robbed by fraud.

The main opposition Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD) said Saturday it would not recognise results of regional assembly elections because the National Election Board of Ethiopia (NEBE) had released them Friday in violation of a court order.

The provisional results made the EPRDF winners in Oromia, South Ethiopian Peoples' State, Tigray and Amhara, while parties allied to it garnered a majority in Afar, Gambella, Benishangul-Gumuz and Harari regions, and the opposition swept Addis Ababa, its stronghold.

"Releasing the provisional result of the regional parliament is against the law and unacceptable, while 299 complaints are not yet verified," CUD top official Gizaw Shiferaw told reporters.

"We have filed charges in the courts against the releasing of provisional results and the courts have ruled that it was illegal," he added.

On June 10 an Ethiopian court ruled that releasing results while complaints of alleged irregularities were still to be probed was illegal, but the NEBE challenged the order in the supreme court.

Under Ethiopian law, an appeal to the supreme court automatically stays the lower court's ruling.

"The board believes that releasing provisional results is in its mandate," NEBE spokesman Getahun Amogne told AFP, adding that it would continue to do so unless the supreme court rules against its appeal.

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