Saturday, July 09, 2005

Ethiopian Expats Slam Action Against Dissenters

World leaders, including PM Meles, pictured in the last row, gather as the G8 summit in Gleneagles ends (photo/AP)

Washington Times -- Ethiopia's diaspora community is holding a series of demonstrations in cities across the United States and Europe to protest the Ethiopian government's crackdown on dissent following disputed elections in the country.

The campaign coincides with growing Western concern over poverty and corruption in Africa, which culminated in a $50 billion aid pledge by the United States and other wealthy nations at a summit of the eight leading industrial countries (G-8) in Scotland yesterday.

"I do not want the G-8 to hand out money to corrupt leaders," said Seymoun Solomon, representative of the opposition Coalition for Unity and Democracy, which is leading the campaign.

"They take the money and divert it to fatten their pockets. The G-8 is supporting banana republics. They should give money to the people where they can ensure accountability."

Large but peaceful demonstrations took place this week in Atlanta, Sacramento, Calif., Dallas, and Los Angeles, attracting "thousands," according to the organizers, as well as in Scotland, where the G-8 summit took place.

The United States is home to more than a half-million Ethiopian immigrants, 300,000 of whom are in the Washington metropolitan area.

Although international observers have lauded the elections for being transparent and peaceful, postelection violence, in which 36 persons were killed and more than a hundred injured at the hands of government troops, have marred the results and eroded the government's legitimacy.

Menfis Mekonen, a member of the Ethiopian American Council, said the demonstrators were protesting the "shootings of innocent people" and "voting irregularities" by the government.

Many foreign election observers have commended the election process.

"For the first time in history the majority of Ethiopian voters were presented with choices when they went to the polls," said a report published by the Carter Center before the violent clashes.

"We believe that Ethiopia has made tremendous strides toward democracy in the last several months, including more open debate, greater political participation, large rallies and enormously high voter turnout on election day," the report said.

The demonstrations in Atlanta, which attracted several thousand people, were aimed in part at the Carter Center's analysis of the election process, which was referred to as "imperceptive" by Elias Kifle, editor of the online expatriate journal Ethiopian Review.

Ethiopian immigrants in the United states have been particularly vocal in their opposition to the government of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi.

"The democratic dreams of millions of Ethiopians were shattered as soon as the vote-counting process started," the Ethiopian American Council said.

A letter to the Ethiopian prime minister from members of Congress, including House International Relations Committee Chairman Rep. Henry J. Hyde and the committee's ranking Democrat, Rep. Tom Lantos of California, said:

"State-sponsored violence against peaceful, if enthusiastic, demonstrators must be considered unacceptable in a civilized nation such as Ethiopia."

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