Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Ethiopian protesters gunned down in Addis

Protests have spread across the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa following the country's disputed 15 May general elections. Provisional results credited the ruling EPRDF party of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi with 320 of the 547 seats in Parliament. The opposition has cried foul, though it made surprising gains and provisionally won every seat in the capital. The National Electoral Board has received complaints in over 200 constituencies, more than a third of the total. As a result, official results will not be announced until 8 July, some seven weeks after the poll.

Protests have flourished despite an official ban. The government has cracked down on the protesters in clashes that have reportedly left 22 dead and some 100 injured.

State radio blamed "gangsters" for the violence. Information Minister Bereket Simon told the BBC the opposition was trying to overthrow a legitimate [sic] government in what he called a Ukrainian-style revolution.

One witness told the BBC's Focus on Africa program that rather than firing in the air to disperse protesters, (in)security forces fired directly into the crowd.

The deputy leader of the opposition CUD alliance has been placed under de facto house arrest.

Prime Minister Meles came to power via a guerrilla war that overthrew the odious Derg regime of Mengitsu Halie Mariam. Though nominally a democracy for the last decade, Meles and the EPRDF are used to running the country with a strong hand and to not being challenged. In this first ever Ethiopian election with (somewhat) independent foreign monitors, the regime was shocked by the level of support for the opposition. In violently repressing and killing unarmed protesters, the regime has revealed its true colors. And more dangerous to itself, it may have increased, rather than decreased, the likelihood of a Ukraine-style popular uprising.

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