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Obama urged to speak out on Ethiopia

- The Washington Times - Friday, May 21, 2010

A bipartisan group of lawmakers says the Obama administration must speak out against human rights violations in Ethiopia ahead of elections in the Horn of Africa nation on Sunday.

In a letter to Johnnie Carson, assistant secretary of state for African affairs, the lawmakers expressed concern that "in the weeks and months prior to the May 23 elections in Ethiopia, the government of Meles Zenawi has acted to suppress democratic opposition voices."

According to Human Rights Watch, "the Ethiopian government is waging a coordinated and sustained attack on political opponents, journalists, and rights activists" ahead of the elections.

The lawmakers said opposition candidates, including Birtukan Mideksa, have been assaulted or detained by police, and many opposition groups have been prevented from opening local offices.

"Like most Americans, we believe that our country must never be silent about grave human rights abuses. Yet in recent years our government has rarely spoken out about the Meles government's human rights violations," the lawmakers wrote.

They said the Ethiopian government had started jamming Voice of America broadcasts in April.

Reps. Christopher H. Smith, New Jersey Republican; Trent Franks, Arizona Republican; James P. Moran, Virginia Democrat; Dana Rohrabacher, California Republican; Ed Royce, California Republican; Frank R. Wolf, Virginia Republican; and Bob Inglis, South Carolina Republican, wrote the letter to Mr. Carson.

Meanwhile, an Ethiopian opposition leader expressed fears Thursday that the elections would be marred by fraud.

The Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front, the ruling party, "has been employing several illegal tactics before election day," said Beyene Petros, chairman of the opposition coalition Medrek, according to an Agence France-Presse report.

"There is a possibility of vote-rigging [on Sunday] but we feel that the population will stand its ground and protect the ballot," he said.