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Ethiopian Opposition Denies Government Allegations of Fomenting Violence

Over the past few days, the Ethiopian government has arrested scores of opposition supporters, accusing them of planning a coup. But the opposition denies the charge and is planning to hold nationwide demonstrations next Sunday to protest what it says were fraudulent parliamentary elections last May. Those polls gave the ruling party and its allies a majority in the 547-seat legislature. The opposition wants talks with the government to correct what it regards as election irregularities. As an alternative, it proposes a transitional government of national unity that would usher in new elections.

Berhanu Nega is a member of the Executive Committee of the opposition Coalition for Unity and Democracy. He told English to Africa reporter William Eagle that none of the arrested opposition members were involved in planning violence against the government. He says the constitution allows for peaceful protests, and that the opposition has asked for permission from the government to hold demonstrations this weekend. Mr. Berhanu says that if the government disapproves, then it must give its reasons for refusal within 48 hours. On the other hand, if the government does not respond, the law says it may be presumed that the government has given its approval.

The opposition leader says the government has taken actions since the May elections that indicate it is not sincere about establishing a democracy. He says the government has cracked down on opponents, and also restricted the ability of the newly elected opposition in parliament to introduce measures for debate. Mr. Berhanu says soon after the polls indicated gains for opposition parties, the government called the old parliament back into session to pass a rule requiring 51 percent of the body to introduce a topic to the formal agenda. Previously, he said, the signatures of only 20 legislators were required. Also, he said the government has moved to restrict the ability of the parliament to rule on financial matters.