- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 2, 2005

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia — Riot police swept across the Ethiopian capital yesterday firing guns and lobbing grenades to quell a second day of protests over disputed parliamentary elections. At least 23 persons were killed and 150 wounded, including children, a rights group said.

One man said police broke into his family’s housing compound firing guns indiscriminately in their search for stone-throwing demonstrators.

The killing of civilians was a political setback for Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, touted by the Bush administration as a progressive African leader and a key partner in the war on terror.

The May 15 vote, which gave his ruling Ethiopian Peoples Revolutionary Democratic Front control of 60 percent of the parliament, had been seen as a key test of Mr. Meles’ commitment to reform. Opposition parties say the vote and ballot counting were marred by fraud, intimidation and violence, and accuse the ruling party of rigging the elections.

Machine-gun fire and explosions rocked the capital yesterday, and armored personnel carriers carrying special forces troops charged down streets littered with burning tires and broken glass.

The violence spread across the city of 3 million people, reaching the doorsteps of the British, French, Kenyan and Belgian embassies — all located in different parts of the capital. Workers at U.N. headquarters were told not to leave their offices.

An Associated Press reporter saw police surround Zewditu Hospital, dragging out and arresting young men. Witnesses said security officials were rounding up young people in various parts of the city.

The independent Ethiopian Human Rights Council said it counted 23 dead based on bodies taken to mortuaries. Hospitals at least 150 persons were treated for injuries, including a 7-year-old boy who was shot in the hip.

The government put the death toll at 11 civilians and one police officer, and said 54 officers and 28 civilians were injured.

The violence came after clashes Tuesday between protesters and police that killed eight persons and wounded 43. The protests erupted after 30 taxi drivers were arrested Monday for participating in demonstrations against the parliamentary elections.

Yesterday’s clashes came hours after security officials arrested opposition leaders. All 15 members of the Coalition for Unity and Democracy’s central committee and about 1,000 supporters were taken into custody, a lawyer who works for the opposition party said.

The opposition says hundreds of their supporters and members have been arrested in the past two months. At least 42 persons were killed by police during protests in June, according to human rights groups.

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