- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 8, 2005

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia — Ethiopian security forces yesterday killed 22 persons, wounded dozens and placed some opposition politicians under house arrest as protesters challenged the government’s claim of victory in last month’s elections.

After a third day of demonstrations in this nation touted as a U.S. ally in the war on terror, the government promised “stern action” if civil unrest persisted and said police were allowed to use any means necessary to quell disturbances. Opposition leaders pleaded for calm.

A government statement read on state television said 22 persons were killed and 40 wounded in the capital, Addis Ababa. A count by hospital officials and the Associated Press matched that toll during the demonstrations, during which security forces fired on protesters.

The elections had been seen as a test of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s commitment to reform. The protests erupted despite a ban on demonstrations after the May 15 legislative elections.

The U.S. government has lauded Mr. Meles as one of the more progressive leaders in Africa and a key partner in the war on terror. U.S. troops often deploy to Ethiopia to train with the Ethiopian army, which patrols the porous border with Somalia.

The violence threatens to destabilize Ethiopia, one of the world’s poorest countries, and raises doubts about the government’s commitment to democracy and human rights. Mr. Meles is a member of British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s Commission on Africa, which has made recommendations to the G-8 group of the world’s wealthiest countries about how to help Africa.

Ethiopia’s opposition won more than 80 percent of the vote in the capital, but the government claimed victory in the elections based on results in rural areas. Opposition parties pointed out widespread fraud and intimidation, charges the ruling party denies.

The head of the European Union observer mission said some opposition politicians were under house arrest.

“The mission has conveyed to the government its condemnation of the home arrests and other harassment and threatening measures imposed on the opposition … leaders in the last days, severely curtailing their political activities,” said Ana Gomes.

The shooting began after the army’s special forces arrived at the business district where protesters were throwing stones.

The police shot at peaceful protesters, said one person lying on a hospital stretcher after emergency treatment.

“The police were running at the crowd, firing shots. I got shot in my leg,” said the 22-year-old day laborer who identified himself by one name, Getu. “I was just trying to get home to avoid the trouble.”

Atenyesh Mamo, 39, said she was wounded after opening the door to her home to bring her 7-year-old son in as protests escalated.

“I don’t know why they shot me, as all I was doing was looking for my son,” she said.

The two main opposition groups, the Coalition for Unity and Democracy and the United Ethiopian Democratic Front issued a 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,” they said. “The responsibility for these atrocities lay solely with the government and ruling party.”

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