Ethiopia

Ethiopia: Uneasy calm in Addis, taxi drivers continue strike

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ADDIS ABABA, 9 June (IRIN) - Most shops in Ethiopia's capital, Addis Ababa, remained closed on Thursday as taxi drivers maintained their strike a day after riots claimed the lives of 22 people and injured 40 more, the police said.

A statement issued by the federal police said clashes that started in Addis Ababa on Monday between protesters and security forces, had now been brought under control.

The violence erupted during protests, initially by students angry at what they said were rigged national elections last month. The taxi drivers joined the protest by calling a strike on Tuesday.

Shooting began on Wednesday when the army's special forces arrived at the central business district where protesters were throwing stones.

Information minister Bereket Simon, who is also the governing party spokesman, said the opposition Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD) had been behind the protests.

"Some of their followers - and some who wanted to use this opportunity for looting - have gathered in some parts of Addis and disrupted the smooth functioning of life," he said. "The government had to use the anti-riot police to resolve the situation."

He added that any loss of life was regrettable.

He said seven buses were destroyed and civilian cars were attacked, while businesses and banks were damaged.

Bereket rejected claims by the opposition that the police had used excessive force to quell the protests.

The chief of the European Union observer mission for the 15 May elections, Ana Gomes, said some opposition politicians had been placed under house arrest.

At a news conference on Wednesday, Gomes said: "The mission has conveyed to the government its condemnation of the home arrests and other harassment and threatening measures imposed on the opposition coalition leaders in the last several days, severely curtailing their political activities and personal movement."

She said the mission had expressed its "deep concerns about the dangerous situation Ethiopia is now facing".

The police said the demonstrators had tried to steal police weapons.

Gomes, who visited one of the hospitals, said while there had been some looting, "many of the injured, mostly by gunshot and including women and children, claim they were shot at random by security forces while waiting for public transportation".

She called for the prosecution of anyone found to have used excessive force.

The government said the security forces had acted to restore order.

The two main opposition groups, the CUD and the United Ethiopian Democratic Front, issued a joint statement demanding an end to the violence.

"These murderous acts have resulted in the killing and wounding of a large number of innocent Addis Ababa citizens, including women and underage youth," the statement said.

[ENDS]

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