- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 1, 2006

Hundreds of Ethiopian civic, political and religious activists rallied yesterday in the District for U.S. support in stopping the slayings and jailings of friends and relatives who oppose the African country’s leader.

Since November, more than 40,000 journalists, professors, students and opposition party leaders have been jailed on charges of treason and genocide, and at least 80 have been slain by the regime of Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, according to Amnesty International.

Mr. Zenawi ordered the arrests after a dispute over results of the May elections.

Opposition leaders from the Coalition for Unity and Democracy and the United Ethiopian Democratic Forces yesterday said dozens of women and children also have been slain or thrown into concentration camps.

“We are trying to get the attention of the U.S. government, who gives major assistance to the [Ethiopian] government,” said Merchaw Senshaw, a member of the Ethiopiawinet National Movement. “If you are fighting for democracy in the Middle East, if you are fighting terrorists all over the world, then why not Ethiopia?”

The march began with a rally at Freedom Plaza and went along Pennsylvania Avenue to another rally on the U.S. Capitol lawn. Protesters from as far away as Canada and Europe attended the event.

Earlier, about 300 Ethiopians from seven political and civic groups hand-delivered to the State Department a letter addressed to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

The Rev. Joseph Lowery, a civil rights activist and co-founder of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, called on the U.S. government to hear the Ethiopians’ plea.

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, California Republican and a member of the House International Relations Committee, said he was drafting a bill that would help the cause.

Many demonstrators said they were frustrated that the United States had helped Iraq and Zimbabwe create democratic governments but ignored Ethiopians’ pleas.

“It is sad to preach democracy all over the country and then ignore us,” said Dejene Assaye, 45, of Dallas. “As an Ethiopian-American, I don’t want my tax money to go to this terrorist government to kill my own people.”

Hareg, a 49-year-old from Maryland who declined to give her last name, called on the United States to exert pressure on the Zenawi regime.

“I get e-mails, telephone calls [saying] so-and-so has been killed,” she said. “The country’s under siege, and it’s just unbelievable. … All we want is democracy.

“The Ethiopian people voted for the opposition; they exercised their democratic right. The price for voting is being killed.”

Mr. Zenawi yesterday told Reuters that rights groups’ charges of widespread abuse of political opponents had no basis in fact and were the result of “sloppy” reporting.

He also said the arrests and trials of opposition leaders were strictly lawful.

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