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Western Donors Tie Aid to Democratization Efforts in Ethiopia

Western diplomats say donors will withhold 375-million dollars in aid to Ethiopia’s government, after the government's crackdown on opposition leaders and journalists. Media reports say the World Bank, the European Union and others will disburse the money through other channels to address the country's widespread poverty.

The decision came in the wake of clashes between security forces and protesters last month in which at least 46 people were killed. The violence erupted during anti-government protests against alleged fraud in last May’s parliamentary elections, won by Ethiopia’s ruling party.

On Wednesday, a judge ordered prison officials to keep in custody more than 80 opposition leaders and journalists detained during the protests. One hundred thirty-one people face charges that include plotting to overthrow the government, treason, and genocide. At least 32 of the accused are outside the country and will be tried in their absence. Among them are five staff members of the Voice of America.

David Shinn is a former US ambassador to Ethiopia and an adjunct professor in the Elliot School of International Affairs at George Washington University in Washington, DC. He tells English to Africa reporter William Eagle the aid will probably affect money earmarked for budgetary support for Ethiopia’s ministries – not funds for emergencies or food aid. Ambassador Shinn adds that the US government does not provide budgetary aid and therefore will probably not be involved in the aid freeze.

He says in the short term, Ethiopia’s government and opposition should undertake confidence-building measures. For example, the government could charge those detained and release them on bail. And, the opposition party should take its seats in parliament, rather than boycott them to protest election irregularities.

Ambassador Shinn says both sides should prepare for local elections in 2006, and the next national polls, in 2010. In order to help ensure a free and fair process, he says reforms should be enacted, including a restructuring of the National Electoral Board. He encourages the international community to help guide both the opposition and the ruling party to prepare for future polls.