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Ethiopia Blasts US Lawmakers' Bill Barring Financial Aid Based on Rights Record


Ethiopian officials have condemned a bill passed in the U.S. House of Representatives that would bar some financial aid to Ethiopia unless the government in Addis Ababa improves its record on democracy and human rights. Nick Wadhams has the story from Nairobi.

A version of the House bill that was passed on Tuesday still must go before the Senate, and it includes a provision that allows President Bush to waive punishment if he decides to do so.

Nonetheless, the White House opposes restrictions on Ethiopia, which is a major ally in the war on terror. And the Ethiopian government says the bill is based on politics more than anything else.

A chief adviser to Ethiopia's Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, Bereket Simon, says his nation is an emerging democracy. He accused U.S. members of Congress of trying to undermine the Ethiopian government.

"It has nothing to do with democracy, it has nothing to do with human rights, this is a matter of personal vendetta and definitely that is not going to work," Bereket said. "This is a sovereign country, a country which has never bowed to any foreign aggression or foreign force. We assure these guys, these congressmen, that that is not going to blackmail Ethiopia in any form."

The Ethiopian government has been accused of widespread abuse since 2005, when it cracked down on demonstrators protesting parliamentary elections that were seen as severely flawed. Human rights groups also argue that the government is inflicting massive suffering on civilians in its eastern Ogaden region as it battles a rebel group, the Ogaden National Liberation Front.

In the meantime, Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is visiting Ethiopia, urged the government to do more to open the political system and protect the rights of the opposition.

Merkel was speaking at a news conference with Prime Minister Meles, who left her criticism unanswered, but went on to criticize the bill passed by the House of Representatives. He also said that Ethiopia would contribute 5,000 troops to the new AU/U.N.peacekeeping force in Sudan's Darfur region.

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