Friday, July 08, 2005

Doing Right by Ethiopia

International Herald Tribune -- When the Group of 8 leaders survey Africa this week, Ethiopia stands out as a special problem. A recent flawed election in Ethiopia and the subsequent killing of pro-democracy protesters by Ethiopia's leftist strongman, Meles Zenawi, has embarrassed Western leaders and highlighted the common flaw in their approaches: They permit Meles to maintain power and in doing so they perpetuate the poverty and instability the G-8 seeks to end.

When it appeared the opposition would win the polling, Meles quickly announced victory, shut off news media access to the opposition, banned public demonstrations and brought in special forces from his tribal home province. Meles's troops killed more than 30 protesters; thousands more were arrested. Under international pressure, Meles has released some of the protesters, but continues to hold hundreds more. Government gunmen continue to intimidate and arrest opposition leaders.

Despite this latest violation of democratic norms, American policy, prioritizing security over democracy, continues previous aid commitments that support Meles, a stalwart ally in America's war on terror. Britain suspended a new aid package over the shooting of the students but continues its previous aid commitments.

In all, G-8 contributions still fund 40 percent of Meles's budget. It does little good to make funds available to solve Ethiopia's misery if they will be used to prolong it or if they contain conditions that the government will never meet. The West should stop pretending that the two sides in Ethiopia's political crisis are morally equivalent.

The G-8, especially President George W. Bush, should give Ethiopia's opposition the support it deserves. The G-8 should end all financial support for the Meles regime. This does not mean cutting off humanitarian aid to suffering Ethiopians; that can be routed through nongovernmental organizations. It does mean ending direct financial support that's being used to kill innocent people.

Ethiopians were encouraged by Bush's new policy emphasizing greater support for freedom overseas. Inspired by his call and the spread of democracy around the world, they braved death, beatings, arrests and intimidation to stand in line for up to 12 hours to vote. It is time for the G-8 to stand with them.

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