November 2, 2005

Ethiopian unrest kills 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.

The killings occurred when security forces opened fire 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.

The government said two police officers were killed and 54
other officers wounded in the violence, which follows months of
serious tensions between the government and opposition in
sub-Saharan Africa's second most populous nation.

Information Minister Berhanu Hailu said only 11 protesters
were killed, calling higher figures exaggerated, and said
"hooligan" opposition figures were behind the unrest in the
city, a bastion of opposition to Prime Minister Meles Zenawi.

Special forces backed by armored personnel carriers were
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 a multi-party vote in May handed Meles a third
five-year term in power, despite a big 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 student riots in 2001. Foreign observers
broadly endorsed the poll results, but noted some

The latest unrest erupted on Tuesday after the Coalition
for Democracy and Unity (CUD) opposition group urged fresh

Late on Tuesday security forces arrested the CUD
leadership, saying it orchestrated the violence,

Addis is the home of the 53-nation Africa Union (AU) and
its troubles have been embarrassing for the young
pan-continental body as it tries to end wars and poverty and
promote democracy.

The AU Commission's respected chairman, Alpha Oumar Konare,
said in a statement he deplored the violence, which he said had
occurred "in circumstances yet to be clarified."

"The chairperson appeals to all concerned for calm and
maximum restraint and urges them to commit themselves to
addressing existing problems through peaceful means and ...
give our continent an example of democracy," he said.

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 government has been patient to the extent that four
policemen have been killed because of the street action," he
said. "Those people who criticize the government for being
harsh are the ones who organized this street action. They do
not speak for the majority who are against street violence."

A U.S. State Department spokesman appealed for calm and
urged the government to appoint an independent commission to
investigate the unrest as well as the violence in June.

"We deplore the use of violence and deliberate attempts to
provoke violence in a misguided attempt to resolve political
differences," he said in Washington.

"There are cynical, deliberate attempts to provoke
violence, provoke a violent reaction from the other side."