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Former Top American Official Criticizes Ethiopian Government

The ongoing political unrest in Ethiopia is putting increased focus on Prime Minister Meles Zenawi and his government's handling of opponents. Herman Cohen -- former Assistant Secratary of State for Africa -- says he is disappointed by actions taken against the opposition by Prime Minister Meles Zenawi's government -- actions he says go far beyond what is necessary. He says the "high-handed" measures demonstrate the true nature of the government -- which he describes as authoritarian and totalitarian.

Ambassador Cohen criticizes the government for behaving more and more like the military regime of Mengistu Haile Mariam it helped overthrow in 1991. He says as was true of the Mengistu dictatorship, the Meles government seems determined "never to allow itself to be subject to democratic change." The former top U.S. official for Africa says the government's recent actions indicate that Mr. Meles is weak politically and that he is fighting for survival. Mr. Cohen says he thinks some of the recent demostrations may have been incited by the opposition within Mr. Meles' own party -- who he alleges wants to get rid of him.

Ambassador Cohen says national sovereignty is important and should be respected. But he says gone are the days when governments can commit human rights violations and prevent democracy from arising without outside criticism. He says outside observer groups and other forces provide useful criticisms that help ensure respect for universal principles.

Mr. Cohen says the U.S. should use economic assistance to press for the continued development of democracy in Ethiopia. He cautions, however, this should be accomplished within the framework of the war against terrorism -- a campaign in which he says the Ethiopian government has been cooperating with Washington.