Sunday, November 27, 2005

Ethiopia's Jailed Leaders to Go on Hunger Strike

(Left to right): Human rights activist Prof Mesfin Woldemariam and the opposition CUD's Birtukan Midek, Berhanu Nega and leader Hailu Shawel
Hailu Showel, right, one of the four main leaders of the Ethiopian Coalition for Unity and Democracy, answers a question from a foreign correspondent as his three colleagues, from left to right, Prof. Mesfin, Birtukan Midek, and Berhanu Nega listen to him, at the Crime Investigation Commission's headquarters, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Sunday, Nov 27, 2005. Ethiopia's main opposition leaders, who have been held for 26 days in jail, said Sunday that they will go on hunger strike to protest their incarceration. (AP Photo/Boris Heger)

Reuters -- Leaders from Ethiopia's opposition who have been detained by the government and accused of treason said they were innocent and would go on hunger strike from Monday.

The government allowed journalists to see the leaders from the opposition Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD) for the first time since they were arrested in early November, accused of inciting violence during protests in Addis Ababa.

"We have committed no crime. We are here because of our political differences with the government," said Berhanu Nega, a top CUD official.

"We have decided to go on hunger strike indefinitely beginning Monday. We will take only liquids," he told journalists at Ethiopia's central investigation centre.

The government was forced to present the CUD leaders to the media to quash rumours that they were being mistreated. All four presented said they had not been mistreated, beaten or tortured but had only 30 minutes a day outside their cells.

"We are treating these people humanely. Some of the things they told you are not true," Tadesse Meseret, head of crimes and forensic investigation, said.

Berhanu denied the CUD had ordered violence when at least 42 people were shot dead as police confronted demonstrators in the capital during new protests against elections in May which the CUD said the government manipulated.

The government denies ballot fraud.

"The only call CUD made was for its supporters to hoot their car horn as a sign of protest," Berhanu said.

Berhanu was joined by CUD chairman Hailu Shawel, Birtukan Midgesa, the deputy chair, and Professor Mesfin Woldemariam.

The chairman said whatever action the international community had taken on its behalf after the elections was much less than it had expected.

"The international community takes serious action when they have problems, not when people from (third world countries) have problems. People have died here. Their response is not proportional to what is happening here. They only pay lip service," he said.

Some of Ethiopia's international donors, who give more than $1 billion in aid, have threatened to cut aid. Others have said they are reluctant to slash aid for what is one of the world's poorest countries which suffers from chronic food shortages and has high rates of unemployment and HIV/AIDS.

In other news, Crawford, Texas protesters focus on war, Ethiopia. Yet, the news media in the US seems to be focusing on two abused cheetas.

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