A top leader of Ethiopia’s main opposition party says the party will continue its peaceful struggle in Ethiopia.
Taye Wolde-Semayat, chairman of the International Chapter of the Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD), said, “It is our party’s commitment to keep the struggle in our country in a peaceful manner.”
Taye welcomed the current negotiations for the release of the opposition leaders, who were sentenced to life in prison by Ethiopia’s high court on Monday. “We encourage positive signs of the negotiation,” he said. “Hopefully, our leaders will come out soon to breath the air of freedom.”
This statement came after the Ethiopian government said the sentenced leaders had signed a paper that it said admitted they tried to overthrow the government in an “unconstitutional” manner. The government says in this letter, addressed to Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, the opposition party leaders took responsibility for the post-election violence two years ago. The demonstrations resulted in the deaths of about 200 people, and thousands more were wounded.
An independent enquiry commission established by the Ethiopian government initially concluded that the government used excessive force in responding to the demonstrations. But since then, the government has jailed opposition leaders and charged them with trying to overthrow the government.
The opposition party leaders chose not to defend themselves in court, calling the trial a politically driven sham.
“The prisoners repeatedly said in court that they have nothing to do with the charges,” says Simegnish Yekoye a political reporter for the Sub-Saharan Informer newspaper in Addis Ababa. “They said they do not recognize the court.”
Simegnish says the reported signing of the letter -- admitting an attempt to overthrow the government -- would be in conflict with the opposition’s earlier stand that there is no legitimate case against them.
Human rights groups have condemned the sentencing of the opposition leaders. International pressure has begun to mount, with the US and European Union calling for reconciliation in Ethiopia.
The Ethiopian government has said a pardon board will look into the letters of “regret” reportedly signed by the detained opposition leaders.
* Editor's Note: There is a dispute over the leadership of the international arm of the CUD. VOA has previously interviewed others who say they are the official spokespeople for the group.