November 5, 2005

Ethiopian capital quiet but tense after protests

By Tsegaye Tadesse and David Mageria

ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - Ethiopia's capital was quiet but
tense on Saturday after four days of political unrest that has
shaken confidence in the vast African nation's stability.

Some residents ventured out for the first time since street
battles erupted this week between police and opposition
protesters, in which at least 42 people were killed.

Girma Teshome, a 30-year-old engineer stocking up on food
at an Addis Ababa market, said he feared violence could flare

"It is quiet now but it may start again after some time,"
he told Reuters. "It could be quiet for a month then erupt

The worst unrest in months has fueled fears of a possible
relapse into authoritarian rule in the Horn of Africa's main
power, prompting Washington, the European Union and the African
Union to urge government and opposition to show restraint.

On Friday, protests began to the north, east and south of
the capital, with four people killed and 11 injured in the
northern town of Bahir Dar, bringing the total of deaths to 46.

State television said the riots in the regions had been
incited by opposition leaders but had been ended by the police
without casualties or damage to property. There was no
independent confirmation of the report.

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

Most shops in Addis Ababa remained shut on Saturday, but a
few residents were out, suggesting a slow return of confidence.

"The government is preaching democracy but it doesn't know
anything about democracy," said 24-year-old banker Senaye Lema.

"They lost power through elections but they are hanging on
through the gun...They only know how to rule through gunfire.
They are preaching false democracy."

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

U.N. peacekeepers have warned that military moves by both
countries had produced a crisis requiring urgent attention.

The United States, which sees sub-Saharan Africa's second
most populous country as an ally against terrorism, has urged
Ethiopians to turn away from violence and, in a thinly-vieled
jab at the opposition, has criticized those inciting violence.


Most analysts blame the bloodshed on habits of political
intolerance acquired over generations of dictatorship, saying
the violence resulted from a mixture of heavy-handed policing
and inflammatory opposition rhetoric.

Ethiopia is struggling to shake off the effects of
centuries of feudalism followed by nearly two decades of
Marxism under dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam, ousted in 1991 by
guerrilla leader Meles Zenawi, now prime minister.

Residents and human rights groups say the crackdown has led
to scores of arrests, including leading opposition figures.

Some people on the streets declined to talk to reporters,
saying their feared retribution from the security services.

Others blamed the opposition for stirring up trouble.

"I hate these people. They cannot accept they were
defeated," said Samuel, a taxi driver, referring to the main
opposition Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD).

"I do not support the government, but I do not like
violence. Why do they have to damage my car? We need peace."