Sunday, October 30, 2005

Ethiopia Warns Opposition Over New Protests

Reuters AlertNet -- Ethiopia's top opposition party has called for new protests over election results it says were rigged, drawing a government warning it would not accept any threat to peace and security.

Bad political blood in Africa's top coffee grower has been increasing since a May 15 parliamentary poll, which triggered opposition claims of fraud and street protests in which police killed 36 people.

The opposition has complained of continuing harassment and intimidation, and on Friday said that about 20 of its members including elected MPs were beaten and arrested by police. Police have denied the accusations.

The main opposition party, the Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD), late on Saturday issued a statement calling on its members to stage a series of protests beginning on Monday across the Horn of Africa nation.

It urged members to hold a stay-at-home strike on Monday, attend peaceful demonstrations on as-yet undecided dates, and refrain from buying products from state-supported businesses and stop listening to or watching state media.

Berhanu Hailu, Ethiopia's newly appointed information minister, described the CUD's action as "a continuation of street action that aims to undermine law and order and disrupt the peace and security of the country."

"It shows that CUD has taken the patience and magnanimity of the government as a weakness. They have been told to refrain from such street action, but the idea of peaceful struggle has not crossed their mind," Berhanu told Reuters.

The opposition has planned other protests in recent months and then called them off, blaming the government for threatening their supporters and violating their constitutional rights.

Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, whose ruling party won the disputed poll, has accused the opposition of using the protests to incite violence and topple his government.

Some 109 elected MPs from CUD, which boycotted parliament in protest against election results, have been stripped of their immunity from prosecution.

The political deadlock and reports of arrests prompted the European Parliament earlier this month to warn of possible cuts in development aid to Ethiopia unless the "persecution and intimidation" of opposition groups came to an end.

International observers broadly endorsed the official results of the election five months ago, but they noted some irregularities during the vote.

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