Ethiopia: US condemns use of force as MP is killed

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

ADDIS ABABA, 14 June (IRIN) - The US on Monday condemned what it called "unnecessary use of excessive force" in Ethiopia, amid opposition claims that police shot and killed one of its newly-elected Members of Parliament.

"We urge the government to respect the rule of law, international principles of human rights, and due process with regard to those arrested or detained," Sean McCormack, a US State Department spokesman, said in a statement.

This criticism of the government's handling of last week's election-related civil unrest, which claimed the lives of 36 people, came as Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi extended a ban on demonstrations in the capital, Addis Ababa, by one month.

The medical director of Addis' Menelik Hospital, Yerdaw Ashgari, confirmed the death toll from the protests, which followed claims that parliamentary elections held on 15 May had been rigged in favour of the ruling party, the Ethiopia People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF).

The US also urged opposition parties to "abide by the rule of law, to respect their commitment to end the violence, and to ask their followers to remain calm".

One of the latest victims of the violence, according to vice-chairman of the opposition United Ethiopian Democratic Forces, Beyene Petros, was a newly elected MP, Tesfaye Adane Jara. Police allegedly shot him on Sunday near his home in Negale Arsi, 250 km south of Addis Ababa.

Information Minister Bereket Simon announced on Monday that six police officers were being held in connection with the incident.

"The policemen who were involved in this incident are under investigation. If they are found guilty, they will be charged according to the law," he said.

In his first televised address to the nation since the protests began on 6 June, Meles said on Monday that his government was extending its ban on demonstrations until official election results were announced.

The country's electoral board is expected to announce the poll results on 8 July, a month later than anticipated. The large number of complaints lodged by EPRDF and opposition parties, which include the main Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD), has delayed the announcement.

The three-day violence in Addis Ababa began when security forces reportedly opened fire and killed several people during demonstrations to protest alleged electoral fraud.

On Friday, EPRDF and CUD signed a two-page document pledging to condemn all violence and exercise restraint.

In a related development, Ethiopia's main opposition leader, Hailu Shawel, was released from house arrest on Tuesday following the agreement by rival political parties to end civil unrest in the country.

Hailu, the CUD leader, was placed under house arrest on Friday after his party declared the agreement "not worth the paper it is written on" just minutes after signing it.

On Saturday, following intense diplomatic pressure, the CUD leadership accepted the deal "unequivocally and without reservations".

However, Bereket said the CUD must meet certain criteria before the government accepted the opposition's commitment to the pact.

"We would like them to announce that they attached preconditions and that was wrong," Bereket added. "They shifted the blame to us by saying we have misinterpreted them, but they are just playing with words."

Negotiations between the main political parties continued under the mediation of the EU.

"It is now a very fragile political situation," one western diplomat, who requested anonymity, said. "There is an awful lot at stake."

The independent Ethiopian Human Rights Council said police on Monday picked up two of its staff members, who were investigating last week's deaths and arrests.

The council's executive secretary, Adam Melaku, said two other investigators were missing, one of them since last week.

In a statement, Amnesty International said on Monday it was "deeply concerned at the arrests of these human rights defenders, who are all prisoners of conscience, and fear they could be tortured to disclose their sources of information on severe human rights violations by the police".

The New-York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) also raised concern after a prominent newspaper distributor in Addis Ababa was arrested last week. Fikre Gudu was arrested at his home by government security forces, the media watchdog said.

"CPJ is concerned that Fikre Gudu's detention is part of a crackdown on the media in the aftermath of elections," Ann Cooper, the CPJ executive director, said. "Ethiopian authorities should not impede the free flow of information, especially during this crucial period."


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