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Ethiopia Ruling Party Says Opposition Plans Poll-Related Violence


Ethiopian PM and Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) chairman Meles Zenawi, center (File Photo)

Ethiopian PM and Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) chairman Meles Zenawi, center (File Photo)

Ethiopia's ruling party is accusing opposition groups of planning violence to topple the government, if they lose next month's elections for parliament.

Senior officials of the ruling Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front say the opposition is trying to create a replay of the violence that followed the last national elections.

At least 200 people died after that 2005 vote, when government troops shot demonstrators who took to the streets claiming the results had been rigged. Many opposition leaders were jailed for life in connection with those protests. All but one, Unity for Democracy and Justice Party leader Birtukan Mideksa, are now free and several are campaigning in this election.

In an interview, EPRDF executive committee member Tedros Hagos accused opposition groups of having close ties to outlawed groups advocating the violent overthrow of the government.

"What we are saying is some of the parties have ill motives," said Hagos. "Their agenda is violence. They think that through means of street violence they can topple this government."

Tedros, who is also political chief of the Tigrayan People's Liberation Front, singled out the main opposition grouping, known as the Forum. He said Forum leader Beyene Petros is openly advocating armed struggle.

"Some of the parties want to change the constitution, they want to depose EPRDF by violence," he said. "The Forum, their alternate final contingency strategy is, they've been saying it. Beyene Petros said the possibility of changing governments is not only through elections but through street fighting."

Opposition leader Beyene calls the charge "outrageous", and vehemently denies advocating violence. He tells VOA his comments, at a political rally last Saturday, were misrepresented by the state-run media.

Beyene offered to provide a recording of the comments, which he says were not broadcast but paraphrased.

Little more than three weeks before the May 23 election day, tensions are high. At least two political operatives have died, with the opposition charging they were killed by ruling party workers and the government arguing the deaths were unrelated to the campaign.

Prime Minister Meles Zenawi has warned that parties and individuals making false allegations may face prosecution after the election. Tedros Hagos says opposition accusations appear to be clear violations of an electoral code of conduct recently passed into law.

"If you give a press statement, allegation, without presenting it to the election board or the court, according to the code of conduct, it's illegal," he said. "It's harassment."

The ruling EPRDF is expected to easily maintain control of the government it has run since coming to power in a 1991 coup.

Party officials attribute their strong position partly to an opposition in disarray and partly to Prime Minister Meles's popularity.

Opposition leaders acknowledge they have little chance of winning, but say the ruling party's tight grip on power, including control of the media and the electoral machinery, make a fair election impossible.

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