Ethiopia: Opposition agrees to abide by non-violence pact

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[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

ADDIS ABABA, 13 June (IRIN) - Ethiopia's main opposition coalition has pledged that it would adhere to a non-violence pact it signed with government on Friday after suggesting earlier that it might not respect the agreement.

The Coalition for Democracy and Unity (CUD) "reaffirms that it will do everything in its powers to support the non-violent transition of society in Ethiopia", Berhanu Nega, the coalition's vice-chairman, said on Monday.

He added: "The CUD would like to once more unequivocally and without reservations declare that it accepts all the provisions of the declaration it signed on 10 June 2005. It further undertakes to implement forthwith the provisions of the agreement".

Friday's agreement followed a week of election-related civil unrest that left at 29 people dead. The protests were over claims that parliamentary elections held on 15 May had been fraudulent.

The accord, signed by the ruling Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) and the two main opposition coalitions in the presence of foreign diplomats, UN representatives and members of the African Union, was aimed at ending the violence.

The parties also agreed to let the National Electoral Board investigate 299 complaints in the 547 constituencies.

Shortly after the signing, CUD leader Hailu Shawel claimed the two-page document was "not worth the paper it is written on."

CUD members said that because their supporters were being killed and rounded up in mass arrests, any non-violence deal with the government was meaningless.

However, on Monday, Berhanu renewed CUD's appeal for calm in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, saying, "Anything that would disrupt [peace], anything that would create a sense of disturbance of any kind would obviously be detrimental to the process."

Hailu was placed under "restrictions" on Friday, just hours after his party signed and then reneged on the peace agreement.

Information Minister Bereket Simon said on Sunday the restrictions had been put in place because the members of the opposition were a threat to state security. He also condemned the CUD for imposing "preconditions" on the peace deal.

"Our information is that the CUD is working in organising these strikes and working towards violence," he said. "The CUD has once again shown us their commitment to violence so the government will not shy away from working towards peace and security. That is why we have taken these steps."

Police beat journalists visiting Hailu's home and confiscated their cameras, according to witnesses.

The EU supported Monday's announcement by the CUD.

Following the reacceptance of the treaty, the EU head of mission issued a statement encouraging "all parties to abide by their commitments under the Declaration and to implement it immediately and in a spirit of co-operation and mutual respect, for the benefit of the Ethiopian people who voted with such faith and hope on May 15, 2005."

According to provisional election results, the EPRDF has won more than 300 seats so far, giving it a majority in the 547-member parliament.

Ethiopia's royal family also warned that the country was in "grave danger" following six days of unrest during which hundreds of people were arrested. It appealed for "patience, flexibility and restraint."

In a statement released by the grandson of Ethiopia's former emperor Haile Selassie, the royal family called on political parties to refrain from igniting ethnic hatred for political gain.

"The violence and deaths have shocked and diminished us all," Prince Ermias Sahle-Selassie Haile-Selassie said from the US. "Like all Ethiopian citizens, we members of the Crown Council have the moral obligation to express our deep concern regarding the situation that is daily getting out of hand as we face a major crossroad in our nation's history."

Prince Ermias' grandfather's 44-year reign ended when dictator Haile Mariam Mengistu seized power in a bloody coup in 1974. The soldiers who had toppled him and kept prisoner allegedly murdered the emperor.

The call for calm came as the electoral board announced it would hold re-elections in two constituencies because of disturbances on polling day. The board also is reviewing complaints in 299 of the 547 constituencies.

EU observers had called the 15 May polls "the most genuinely competitive election the country has experienced," despite some problems and human rights violations.

Twenty-six million Ethiopians were registered to vote at 31,000 polling stations, and voter turnout was over 90 percent. But opposition parties and the ruling bloc lodged complaints of massive irregularities soon after the polls closed. Three weeks after polling, final election results still have not been declared.

The violence threatens to destabilise Ethiopia, which is one of the poorest countries in the world.

It also could strain the prime minister's dealings with the international community. Meles is a member of British Prime Minister Tony Blair's Commission for Africa, which has called on the developed world to increase aid and trade to Africa and reduce its debt. The commission in turn has asked African leaders to embrace democracy and improve their citizens' security.


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