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Ethiopian Opposition Cancels Protest Rally

Ethiopia's opposition parties are mulling their options following the cancellation of Sunday's rally to protest election results.

Sunday's demonstration, organized by the Coalition for Unity and Democracy and the United Ethiopian Democratic Forces, was to have pushed for the formation of a transitional, unity government to oversee new polls.

The opposition is calling for new elections because it accuses the ruling Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front of committing fraud and other offenses in connection with its victory in the May 15 elections.

A senior official with the Coalition for Unity and Democracy, Berhanu Nega, tells VOA the opposition canceled the upcoming event because the government deemed the meeting illegal and refused to issue a permit.

"This [cancellation] doesn't mean that the opposition is succumbing to the government or that it has accepted a life without freedom," said Mr. Berhanu. "The commitment to freedom in this country is irreversible now, and the public is very, very angry at all the measures that the government is taking, which is anti-constitutional, which is against the rules and the laws of the country."

Mr. Berhanu says opposition officials are meeting Friday to come up with alternative measures to holding a public demonstration. He also blasts authorities for conducting a wave of arrests recently in which he says 859 Coalition for Unity and Democracy members have been detained.

"The purpose is simply an attempt to completely terrorize the society and to generate fear, which would allow the government to rule by fear and by force," he added.

According to the Ethiopian government, it is the opposition and their supporters who are destabilizing the population and need to be stopped.

"The government has ample evidences as to their supporters being armed and getting ready to disrupt the law and order," explained Information Minister Bereket Simon. "Those who have been found with such evidence have been brought to justice, so that's what we have done."

Mr. Bereket accuses the opposition of going against the constitution by calling for a unity government to replace a democratically elected one, and says the opposition is bound by an agreement it signed with the government in June.

"Every party has an obligation to accept the final declarations of the National Elections Board. Now the opposition have expressed that they don't accept the results and hence going to form a national unity government by bringing down the winning party," he added. "Basically, this is unconstitutional and our government has told them that such illegal objectives are not permitted."

The ruling party has captured at least 59 percent of the country's 547-seat parliament.

In late August, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi blasted the European Union for reporting that its monitors had found instances of fraud, intimidation of opposition leaders, and human rights abuses during post-election demonstrations in which at least 36 people were killed, allegedly by security forces.