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CUD leaders, editors to face treason charges

[Ethiopia] Ethiopian Prime Minister - Meles Zenawi.
Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. (IRIN)

Detained opposition leaders and editors seized after bloody clashes in Addis Ababa last week will face treason charges, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said on Wednesday.

The prime minister declared that the worst of the violence was over, but his government had no intention of bowing to calls from the international community for the release of opposition leaders.

"That would not be consistent with the democratic practice here or anywhere else on earth," the prime minister told journalists. "If in return for their support they expect us to accept their demands, instructions, whatever - no questions asked - that means they have no idea about the history and culture of Ethiopia."

Meles maintained that the detained opposition leaders of the Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD) would not be released.

"They are accused of engaging in insurrection," he said. "That is an act of treason under Ethiopian law. They will be charged and will have their day in court."

Some newspaper editors will also face charges of treason for helping instigate violence, he added.

"They are being held because of their involvement in insurrection. They will not be charged for violating the press law. They will be charged, like the CUD leaders, with treason.

"I don't know what the prosecution will ask for, but the death penalty is still legal in Ethiopia," he continued. "On a personal note that is not the penalty I would like to see applied. It is for the prosecution and courts to decide. But if I have any say on it, I would prefer prison sentences rather than death sentences."

The prime minister said the majority of last week's demonstrators were unemployed youths.

"A large part of the violence we saw in Addis is frustration of youths who have been unemployed for many years that do not see prospects of getting employment soon. That is why we feel the key solution is one of addressing the social and economic problems here," he added.

Meles also said police were compiling figures on how many people were killed and how many were arrested.

He expressed regret over the clashes, but said police had a duty to control the violence. He also promised an independent investigation.

"I regret the loss of life deeply and loss of property," he said. "I have no doubts as to whether riots have to be controlled or not. The police force has to put an end to them.

"I will reserve judgement whether sufficient or excessive force was used in controlling the riot until the independent investigation. If it was found excessive force was applied, then there will be corrections."

Meles also played down recent concern that war with Eritrea may flare up over their unresolved border dispute. "While I cannot rule out the possibility of another round of conflict, I am not of the opinion that war is just around the corner," he said.

He tried to reassure Eritreans that Ethiopia would not launch an attack: "I can assure them that no provocation on the part of the leadership of Asmara, short of a full-scale invasion is going to be reciprocated by Ethiopia."

Meanwhile, two people were killed during clashes between students and police in Ambo, a town 125 km west of Addis Ababa on Wednesday. Police also announced they were releasing 285 people seized during deadly clashes in Ethiopia, although the number held remains unknown.

International charity Save the Children called for greater protection of young children after several were brought into hospitals last week with gunshot wounds.

"Save the Children deplores this situation and calls on all parties to immediately end all violence towards children and young people and to take necessary steps to prevent their involvement in violence in the future," the organisation said in a statement.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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