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Ethiopia Blasts Donors For Plans to Withhold Aid Following Crackdown

Western donors are set to withhold aid from Ethiopia over the government's crackdown on the opposition and press, following elections earlier this year. The government says it has acted in accordance with the law.

Media reports indicate that the World Bank, the European Union, and the United Kingdom are among donors planning to withhold $375 million in direct budgetary support to the Ethiopian government.

Donor officials are quoted as saying the money would instead be allocated to programs run by the United Nations and aid groups to fight poverty.

VOA was unable to reach officials at the World Bank's Ethiopia office for comment.

More than 80 people were killed in June and November when opposition supporters protesting the results of the May elections clashed with authorities.

Following the clashes, the government detained thousands of people, many of whom were later released. But 131 political opponents, journalists and others are still facing charges, including treason and genocide. They say they have been denied access to their lawyers.

The donors say they are concerned about these and other developments, and want to express their concerns by withholding aid.

Government official and former information minister Bereket Simon tells VOA his government has not officially heard from donors on the matter.

Mr. Bereket says it is wrong for donors to withhold their aid, as, " Ethiopia is moving in the right direction economically and politically. "

He says his government has tolerated what he calls the opposition supporters' violence, and the courts are now hearing the evidence.

"Now, we have taken them to the court, and the legal process has been started," he noted. "This is a case, which is being handled by the judiciary and nobody can intervene. So, if the donors are trying to blackmail us from continuing with the due process of law, that's unacceptable for us."

Mr. Bereket denies that the accused did not have access to their lawyers, saying that the lawyers decided not to represent their clients following consultations.

The accused include five journalists with the Voice of America's Amharic-language service, who were charged in absentia, as well as members of the opposition Coalition for Unity and Democracy.

Ethiopia is among the poorest countries in the world, and among the largest recipients of foreign aid on the continent.