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Sunday, November 13, 2005

Former Emperor's Family Appeals for Dialogue in Riot-Torn Ethiopia

AFP -- The family of Haile Selassie, former emperor of Ethiopia, made an appeal for the country's political parties to start urgent dialogue following deadly street riots that claimed at least 48 lives.

"Unless we urgently begin dialogue with mutual respect ... we are bound to repeat the darkest periods of our nation's history", said the Council of the Crown of Ethiopia, representing the former monarch's family.

Riots erupted in the capital Addis Ababa and other towns when the opposition Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD) called on Ethiopians to protest alleged fraud in May 15 elections won by the ruling coalition.

Haile Selassie was deposed in a 1974 coup and died a year later under house arrest. His family, since domiciled in the US, no longer has political status in the poverty-stricken nation of some 70 millions, but retains a symbolic aura.

The royal council proposed that all political parties should "jointly establish a forum for mediation and conflict resolution to help address the current problem by bringing back relevant parties to the negotiation table."

This panel should be set up immediately to urgently help explore ways and means for peaceful resolution of the current political impasse, it urged.

According to diplomats, at least 11,000 people were arrested in the latest violence.

The CUD's entire leadership remained in police custody and Prime Minister Meles Zenawi warned that the detained opposition leaders could face treason charges, punishable by death.

"The emotionally seductive rhetoric of 'you're either with us or against us' leaves no room for productive negotiation and compromise," said the royal council, described by the royal family website as the body representing the emperor in times of interregnum.

"Such strong inflammatory speech erodes the right to freedom of thought, as it aims to silence the legitimate voice of the people," the statement said.

"We must be candid. All political leaders are ultimately accountable to their constituents."

Haile Selassie, born in 1892 was crowned emperor in 1930 and became noted for his work of modernising his country.

In 1974, a pro-Soviet Marxist-Leninist military junta deposed him and established a one-party socialist state. He was arrested and died the following year under house arrest.

The new regime suffered several bloody coups, uprisings, wide-scale drought, and a massive refugee problem.

In 1994, a new constitution led to Ethiopia's first multiparty elections. In 1998, a dispute over the undemarcated border with Eritrea led to the Eritrean-Ethiopian War.

Last, Ethiopia held another multiparty election, and resulted in the ruling Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi returning to power.

In early June and again in November, police under the command of the EPRDF shot and killed demonstrators protesting the alleged election fraud.

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