Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Mels Refuses to Grant Clemency--Calls Daniel and Others 'Hardliners'

Ethiopia defiant on opposition detainees

By Andrew England in Nairobi
Published: February 8 2006 02:00

Ethiopia's prime minister yesterday defied pressure to release opposition leaders detained after politically motivated violence in Addis Ababa that killed more than 80 people.

Human rights activists and donors, which are withholding direct budgetary support worth about $375m, have condemned the government for its heavy-handed reaction to riots in June and November. After the November clashes thousands were rounded up and dozens of opposition leaders, as well as human rights activists and journalists, were charged with treason and genocide.

Meles Zenawi, the prime minister, told parliament that releasing "these hardliners" would embolden them to think "whatever their action, they will not be held accountable".

He said: "The government has made it abundantly clear that interfering with the judicial process for the release of hardliners is out of the question. The government has taken this unwavering position not because of stubbornness or for a lack of willingness to resolve issues through dialogue and negotiation."

Mr Meles accuses the opposition Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD) of instigating the violence and attempting to overthrow the government. However, opposition members insisted that they had called for peaceful protests and accused the government of using brutal tactics to silence critics.

The violence was sparked by disputed May elections, during which the opposition made unprecedented gains while also claiming that the process had been rigged.

In Addis Ababa the CUD won a landslide, but Berhanu Nega, who should have become the city's mayor, was among those detained. Before their arrest CUD leaders had refused to take up their seats unless the government met a series of ­conditions.

Mr Meles said fresh elections should be held for the capital, an opposition stronghold, "as the elected representatives have failed to assume their responsibilities by respecting the law". However, he said the poll would not take place until the right conditions were in place.

The government's res-ponse to the riots severely strained relations between Mr Meles, once a favourite of donors, and western governments.

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