November 4, 2005

Ethiopia unrest spreads

By Tsegaye Tadesse and David Mageria

ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - Political unrest erupted beyond
Ethiopia's capital for the first time on Friday in a
development likely to deepen concern for the African giant's
stability after days of bloody disturbances in Addis Ababa.

In the capital, a measure of calm returned despite sporadic
gunfire in the morning as police scattered groups of
protesters. There was no repeat of the large street battles
seen on the three previous days in which 42 people were killed.

A government statement acknowledged that protests had
broken out in regions to the north, east and south of Addis
Ababa but insisted that the troubles were now under control
despite what it called incitement by the opposition.

Ethiopia's worst unrest in months has fueled fears about
the stability of the Horn of Africa's main power, prompting the
European Union and African Union to urge restraint.

The latest bout of violence began in the capital, a
stronghold of opposition groups which accuse Prime Minister
Meles Zenawi of rigging his way back to power at polls in May.

"We are very scared because although it is a bit quiet now,
the fighting is likely to start again. The police are provoking
the public," said opposition supporter Endale Alemaghue.

"They say they want to arrest our leaders, but they have
arrested all of them, so who do they want? They just want
trouble," he told Reuters near the capital's Mercato market
where violence first flared on Tuesday.

The government said it would continue to work with ordinary
people to ensure the unrest was ended "once and for all."

"The violence incited by the opposition in Addis Ababa over
the last three days has been brought under control," it said.

"Similar but very limited violent trends happened in Bahir
Dar, Awasa, Gondar, Dessie, and Dire Dawa, these were brought
under control after a short while," the statement said.

The towns listed are in regions inhabited by Amharas,
ethnic Somalis, Oromos and a mix of groups in the so-called
Southern Peoples Region. Residents contacted by telephone also
reported demonstrations in Arba Miinch in the same region.

Amharas make up about a fifth of the ethnically-diverse
nation of 77 million, which is organized as a federation of
ethnically-defined regions and is sub-Saharan Africa's second
most populous after Nigeria.


The disturbances have coincided with fresh tension with
neighboring Eritrea, Ethiopia's foe in a 1998-2000 border war.

U.N. peacekeepers patrolling the disputed Ethiopia-Eritrea
frontier warned that recent military moves by both countries
had produced a crisis requiring urgent attention.

They said on Thursday they were concerned the moves in the
past two weeks involving tanks, air defense missiles and troops
could lead to a repeat of the conflict.

European Union (EU) foreign policy chief Javier Solana
contacted Meles on Friday to express his concern about the
situation, urging government and opposition to show restraint
and settle their differences through dialogue.

An EU statement said Solana was worried about the
authorities "excessive use of force" but he also urged the
opposition to take up parliamentary seats it won in the polls.

Several opposition MPs have boycotted the assembly in
protest at alleged rigging, a stance criticized by some Western
governments who say it is evidence of what they call the
fondness of some opposition leaders for grandiose gestures.

Doctors at several hospitals put the death toll since the
start of the clashes at 42. Information Minister Berhan said on
Friday 24 people had been killed in three days of unrest.

Residents and human rights groups say the security
crackdown has led to scores of arrests including leading
figures from the main opposition Coalition for Unity and
Democracy (CUD).