Thursday, June 09, 2005

Ethiopia Stores Closed After Riots

Most stores were shuttered Thursday and families collected the dead for burial following riots over election results and government warnings that any more civil unrest would be dealt with sternly.

Ethiopian security forces opened fire on stone-throwing demonstrators in Addis Ababa on Wednesday, leaving at least 22 people dead, the government said. European Union observers said some opposition politicians were placed under house arrest following the government's victory in last month's election.

A senior member of the opposition United Ethiopian Democratic Forces was being held in his office by police and the top two leaders of the opposition Coalition for Unity and Democracy were under police surveillance, officials said Thursday.

Five office workers for the coalition were arrested, party members said, and the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission said two of their investigators were missing.

On Thursday, the European Union expressed "deep concern" about the violence.

Statements from EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana and development commissioner Louis Michel appealed "to all parties to avoid any incendiary language or action that could lead to further violence."

Taxis and private bus drivers, as well as shop owners in the Ethiopian capital, began a strike Wednesday, after two days of protests that mainly involved students. The strike continued Thursday, despite government threats of retaliation.

The government said police were allowed to use any means necessary to quell disturbances.

Families picked up the dead for burial Thursday.

Gashgish Manjeta, 45, wailed over the coffin of her 60-year-old father, Manjeta, a spice trader who died after being shot in the stomach.

"He was doing nothing wrong," she said. "He was a businessman. He was not trying to loot shops or attack the police."

The elections were seen as a test of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi's commitment to reform his sometimes authoritarian regime. The protests have broken out despite a ban on demonstrations imposed immediately after the May 15 legislative election.

The U.S. government has touted Meles as a progressive African leader and a key partner in the war on terror; U.S. troops have even trained with Ethiopian troops that patrol the porous border with Somalia.

Meles has also played a role on British Prime Minister Tony Blair's Commission on Africa, which has made recommendations to G-8 countries on how to help this continent.

But the violence threatens to destabilize Ethiopia, one of the poorest countries in the world, as well as raising doubts about the government's commitment to democracy and human rights.

Ethiopia's opposition won more than 80 percent of the vote in the capital last month, but the government claimed victory based on results in rural areas. Opposition parties say there was widespread fraud and intimidation, charges the ruling party denies.

ABC News

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