Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Report #4 on the Era of Peace

From Mail & Guardian Online

November 2, 2005

Anthony Mitchell
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Link to Original

At least 33 dead in Ethiopian clashes

Clashes between police and protesters erupted in gunfire and grenade explosions on Wednesday, with police killing at least 33 people during a second day of renewed demonstrations against Ethiopia's disputed elections, a rights group said.

The independent Ethiopia Human Rights Council said in a statement sent to foreign embassies that the death toll was based on bodies taken to mortuaries in Addis Ababa on Wednesday.

Hundreds of heavily armed riot police were deployed across the capital as heavy machine-gun and rifle and loud explosions rocked Addis Ababa. Armoured personnel carriers carrying Ethiopia's special forces patrolled streets littered with burning tyres and broken glass.

The fighting spread across the city, reaching the doorsteps of the British, French, Kenyan and Belgian embassies -- all located in different parts of the capital. Workers at the United Nations headquarters were told not to leave their offices.

At least 81 civilians also were wounded in Wednesday's clashes, including a seven-year-old boy who was shot in the hip, doctors at the Black Lion, Zewditu and Paulos hospitals said.

An Associated Press reporter saw federal police surround Zewditu hospital, dragging out and arresting young men at the facility.

The violence followed clashes on Tuesday between protesters and police that killed eight people and wounded 43 others.

Civilians wounded
Eyewitnesses said police fired assault rifles and lobbed grenades indiscriminately against civilians on Wednesday.

Victims included Arabia Abdul Fatah (13), who suffered shrapnel wounds to her stomach and legs.

"The police were looking for rioters and burst into our compound. They fired tear gas and then threw a grenade," said her father, Abdul Fatal, a 44-year-old daily labourer. "The police then started shooting in the compound. My daughter has never been in trouble with anyone."

Tigist Daniel (16) said she brought her 50-year-old mother to a hospital after police shot her in the stomach.

"All my mother was trying to do was save my brother because he had been caught up in the fighting. She ran out of the house to grab him and the police just shot at her," Tigist said. "They are shooting anyone who comes out of their house."

Information Minister Berhan Hailu said the government is "sorry and sad" for the violence. But he blamed it on the main opposition party.

Election protests
The renewed clashes erupted after 30 taxi drivers were arrested on Monday for participating in demonstrations against the May 15 parliamentary elections.

The elections gave Prime Minister Meles Zenawi's Ethiopian Peoples Revolutionary Democratic Front control of 60% of Parliament.

Opposition parties made strong gains, but say the vote and counting were marred by fraud, intimidation and violence. They claim the ruling party rigged the elections.

The violence flared up again after sporadic bursts of gunfire in parts of Addis Ababa late on Tuesday and early on Wednesday, hours after security officials arrested the leaders of the main opposition party.

Security officers have arrested all 15 members of the Coalition for Unity and Democracy's central committee and about 1 000 supporters, a lawyer who works for the opposition party said on the condition of anonymity because of security concerns.

Witnesses said security officials were rounding up young people in various parts of the city.

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

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

But the opposition claims 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. -- Sapa-AP


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