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Thursday, September 29, 2005

Ethiopian Opposition Cancels Rally, Blames Govt

Reuters -- Ethiopia's two main opposition parties on Thursday said the government forced them to call off post-election protest rallies planned for the weekend, in violation of their constitutional rights.

The United Ethiopian Democratic Front (UEDF) and Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD) had planned to call supporters out on Sunday to protest the results of a May 15 parliamentary election.

Allegations of fraud in the election, which was won by Prime Minister Meles Zenawi's ruling Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), prompted street protests that led police to shoot dead 36 people in July.

"The government and the ruling party, acting above the law and violating the country's constitution, have forbidden us to hold a peaceful protest rally," UEDF Chairman Beyene Petros said at a press conference jointly held with the CUD.

Meles said earlier this week that the planned rally by opposition parties "was part of a plot to incite violence and topple the government."

The opposition also said a total of 859 of their members have been arrested this week.

Information Minister Bereket Simon confirmed that armed opposition members had been arrested but declined to give a total number. Earlier this week, police said they had arrested 43 armed opposition members.

Bereket said the government recognises the rights of citizens to hold peaceful demonstrations.

"It is public knowledge that opposition parties have called waves of demonstrations across the country on October 2, to undermine law and order and seize political power in an unconstitutional manner," he said.

Yacob Haile Mariam, a CUD official, rejected the government's accusation: "We have confirmed time and again that we have no intention to overthrow the government violently."

Yacob accused the government of harassing, beating and imprisoning opposition supporters throughout the country, echoing complaints from the campaign, the polls and their aftermath.

International observers broadly endorsed the official results of the polls, which gave Meles' ruling party the victory, but noted some irregularities during the vote.

It was only the second real multi-party poll in sub-Saharan Africa's second most populous nation.

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