November 5, 2005

Ethiopian leader orders independent probe of unrest

By Tsegaye Tadesse and David Mageria

ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - Ethiopia's Prime Minister Meles
Zenawi said on Saturday an independent commission of inquiry
would be set up to investigate political unrest that has shaken
confidence in the African nation's stability.

In an interview with Ethiopian state media, Meles said the
government and police had a right to protect property and

"Although they had to use force, they are not required to
use excessive force," he said. "An independent body will
conduct investigations to ascertain whether excessive force was

Clashes between the opposition and police have killed at
least 42 people in Addis Ababa in the worst unrest for months,
prompting the United States, the European Union and the African
Union to urge both sides in the Horn of Africa's main power to
show restraint.

Meles gave no other details of the inquiry, but said it
would also probe political violence in June when 36 people

He said leaders of the opposition Coalition for Unity and
Democracy (CUD) arrested during this week's clashes would face
court as soon as investigations were complete.

"Out of 60 CUD control committee members, the government
decided to arrest only 25 suspected of being involved in
violence," Meles said, adding that the police had been attacked
by opposition supporters hurling grenades and wielding


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.

Two students were reported killed on Saturday in a street
battle with police in another northern town, Debre Markos.

The government said it could not confirm those deaths.

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

Addis is a stronghold of opposition groups who accuse Meles
of manipulating polls in May to stay in power. Meles denies it.

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.

On Saturday, Meles said Ethiopia was committed to resolving
the border dispute through dialogue.

"But if Eritrea opts for aggression then Ethiopia is
prepared to take decisive and irreversible action to smash the
attack and protect its sovereignty," he said.

Meles, who flew to Germany on Saturday for a two-day
meeting of African leaders, did not elaborate.


Most analysts blame this week's 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.

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-veiled
jab at the opposition, has criticized those inciting violence.

Addis was quiet but tense on Saturday, and some residents
said they feared violence might break out again.

"It is quiet now but it may start again after some time,"
Girma Teshome, a 30-year-old engineer stocking up on food at a
city market, told Reuters.

"It could be quiet for a month then erupt again."