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Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Eight Die in Clashes With Ethiopian Police

Doctors rush a wounded man into Black Lion Hospital, Addis Ababa, Tuesday, Nov.1, 2005, after clashes between opposition supporters and police. Riot police clashed with dozens of opposition supporters in Ethiopia's capital Tuesday, shooting dead at least five people and wounding some 20 others in renewed protests against the disputed May 15 elections, health workers said. (Photo courtesy: aheavens)

ABC News
-- Riot police clashed with dozens of opposition supporters in Ethiopia's capital Tuesday, leaving eight people dead and 43 wounded in renewed protests against disputed elections, the Information Ministry said.

Two leaders of the main opposition party Coalition for Unity and Democracy were also arrested, party officials said. It was unclear what charges they faced, but Prime Minister Meles Zenawi has accused the opposition of treason and committing "serious" crimes in the run-up to the May 15 elections.

The head of the party, Hailu Shawel, was arrested at his home, while the vice chairman, Berhanu Nega, was taken into custody on the streets following the unrest, party officials said. Two other senior party officials were missing and feared arrested.

Some publishers and editors of private newspapers accused of publishing "baseless" reports and propaganda also faced arrest, the Information Ministry said in a statement.

The ministry said the dead included six civilians and two policemen.

The clashes came a day after police arrested and revoked the licenses of 30 taxi drivers who took part in demonstrations against the parliamentary elections, which opposition parties claim were rigged by Zenawi's ruling party.

Final results gave Meles' Ethiopian Peoples Revolutionary Democratic Front control of 60 percent of the parliament. Opposition parties made strong gains in the polls but say the vote and counting were flawed by fraud, intimidation and violence.

Bukara Debele, a 22-year old tailor, said police fired indiscriminately at people on the streets, including those who were not involved in the protests.

"I could see there was beginning to be trouble, so I turned around to go home, but everyone started running and the police started shooting and I was shot in my leg," he said from a hospital bed.

"They were shooting at anyone. People were falling over and screaming and the riot police were hitting" them with batons, he said.

Most of the dead were shot in the chest, according to doctors at the Black Lion Hospital, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of fears of retribution.

The riots subsided after hundreds of police reinforcements were deployed on streets strewn with broken glass and smoking tires.

Information Minister Berhan Hailu blamed the violence on the Coalition for Unity and Democracy, saying they had called for demonstrations as part of a plan "to disrupt the peace and stability in the country."

Opposition spokesman Gizachew Shiferaw urged supporters to stay calm and accused police of using excessive force.

"To blame us for this violence is madness. The trouble was incited by the government simply because people were supporting us by hooting their car horns. The measures that the police took … were excessive," he said.

Opposition parties have claimed that hundreds of their supporters and members have been arrested in the past two months. At least 42 people were killed by police during protests in June, according to human rights groups.

Also Tuesday, the government threatened legal action against the Coalition for Unity and Democracy, which has been boycotting Ethiopia's lower house of parliament until it gets answers to questions about the results of the May elections.

The party has 109 seats in the 547-member Council of People's Representatives.

The elections were seen as a test of Meles' commitment to reform his sometimes authoritarian regime. The U.S. government has touted Meles as a progressive African leader and a key partner in the war on terror.

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