November 2, 2005

Ethiopia clashes kill 23 in capital

By David Mageria

ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - At least 23 people were killed and
150 wounded in clashes in the Ethiopian capital on Wednesday,
medical sources said, as police battled protesters in the giant
African country's worst political unrest in months.

Separately, the government said two policemen were killed
and 54 policemen wounded in the violence in central Addis
Ababa, a bastion of opposition to Prime Minister Meles Zenawi.

A statement announcing the police deaths implied an overall
death toll of 25 but Information Minister Berhanu Hailu said
only 11 demonstrators had been killed, calling reports of
higher figures "exaggerated."

The killings occurred when security forces opened fire with
guns to scatter hundreds of demonstrators who formed makeshift
barricades, hurled rocks and smashed windscreens in protest
against a May poll the opposition says was rigged.

Special forces backed by four armored personnel carriers
deployed in the volatile Mercato area, where violence erupted
on Tuesday, and sealed it off from the rest of the sprawling

The sources, contacted at five city hospitals, said women
and youths were among those killed on Wednesday. The violence,
the second straight day of unrest in the capital, brings to at
least 31 the number killed in the past two days.

Many of the wounded had been shot in the upper body, the
medical sources said.

A Reuters reporter saw police round up dozens of people and
bundle them into two pickup trucks.

"We are protesting because the government stole the
election. People are angry because the police are very cruel,"
said Ghebremichael Ayele, dragging pieces of wood to block a
road leading to the capital's biggest hospital.


Political troubles in Africa's top coffee grower have
worsened since Ethiopia's second real multi-party vote handed
Meles a third five-year term in power, despite a massive swing
to the opposition.

In June post-election clashes killed 36 people in Addis
Ababa, an opposition stronghold, in the capital's worst
violence since bloody but short-lived student riots in 2001.

Foreign observers broadly endorsed the official results,
but noted some irregularities in the election.

Six protesters and two policemen died in Tuesday's
violence, which began three days after the Coalition for
Democracy and Unity (CUD) opposition group called for fresh

In the hours after Tuesday's clashes security forces
arrested the CUD leadership, saying it orchestrated the
violence, widely seen as evidence of persistent political
tensions in sub-Saharan Africa's second most populous nation.

Once feted by Western leaders as part of a "new generation"
of African leaders pursuing pluralism and clean government,
Meles' democratic credentials have come under growing scrutiny
over the election wrangling and his crackdown on civil unrest.

Meles has repeatedly accused the opposition of plotting to
incite violence and topple his government. He says he will not
accept any threat to security in the country of 77 million.

Merera Gudina, first vice-chairman of a smaller opposition
party, the United Ethiopian Democratic Forces (UEDF),
criticized the government's tough tactics.

"The government used excessive force," he told Reuters. "We
are sitting on a time bomb. It exploded yesterday. It could
explode again a week later or a month later."

At one hospital, a relative of one of the dead, Dawit
Tesfaye, said: "The problem we have is that he (Meles) wants to
stay in power by force. That's why they are killing my family."

Information Minister Berhanu played down the violence.

"The violent situation is continuing in some parts of the
city, but it's not a big challenge to the government," he told
reporters, blaming the CUD for instigating Tuesday's clashes.