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Ethiopia Plans Treason Trials for Jailed Foes

Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi says jailed opposition political leaders and journalists will be tried for treason in the aftermath of violent anti-government protests last week.

Prime Minister Meles says he believes the worst of Ethiopia's recent political unrest is over, but he vows to take a tough stance against those the government accuses of fomenting insurrection.

The prime minister spoke with journalists from Western media organizations on the situation following street clashes last week that left scores killed and hundreds wounded, mostly in the capital, Addis Ababa.

The violence came after the opposition Coalition for Unity and Democracy called for civil disobedience to protest alleged fraud in last May's election, in which Mr. Meles won a third term. The government denies the fraud allegations.

The prime minister says 24 jailed leaders of the CUP will be prosecuted, despite calls from the United States and the European Union that they be freed.

"They will not be released," Mr. Zenawi said. "They are accused of engaging in insurrection, and that's an act of treason under Ethiopian law and they will be charged and they will have their day in court."

If convicted of treason, the suspects could face the death penalty, but Mr. Meles pointed out he has the power to commute such sentences.

The prime minister says he is still open to dialogue with other opposition parties and any CUD officials who are still free and reject insurrection.

Mr. Meles says a parliamentary commission of inquiry will examine whether security forces used excessive force in dealing with the violence.

"I regret the loss of life, deeply, and loss of property," he said. "I will reserve judgment as to whether sufficient or excess force was used in controlling riots. I have no doubts as to whether riots have to be controlled or not. Riots have to be controlled. The police forces have to put and end to them, and on that point I have no second thoughts."

Mr. Meles says the violence has marred the image of Ethiopia, but he believes the process of democratization has not lost momentum. He says Ethiopia is not likely to witness a Rose or Orange Revolution as was seen in Georgia and Ukraine.

He also says many of the demonstrators were from the ranks of the 300,000 unemployed youths in Addis Ababa. He says a key solution to the problem is to resolve the social and economic problems of those young people.