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Ethiopian Political Detainees Go On Hunger Strike

Three leaders of Ethiopia’s main opposition Coalition For Unity And Democracy and a human rights activist say they are going on a hunger strike starting today -- to protest their detention. The four were arrested at the beginning of this month during violent protests over May's disputed election results. They have not been formally charged but Prime Minister Meles Zenawi says they could be tried for treason. The detainees going on strike include CUD leader Hailu Shawel; mayor-elect of Addis Ababa, Berhanu Nega; deputy CUD leader Birtukan Mideksa and prominent human rights activist Professor Mesfin Woldemariam.

Yishak Kifle -- a member of the CUD’s Foreign Relations Committee – told Voice of America reporter Ashenafi Abedje his colleagues will continue their hunger strike until the treason charge against them is dropped. He says the prosecutor may file official charges during their scheduled court appearance this Thursday. Mr. Kifle says he fears public statements made by the prime minister will prejudice whatever proceedings the judicial system will undertake – a judiciary he says is fully controlled by the government.

Some eight thousand people have been freed since the protests organized by the opposition, saying that the May elections were rigged. There are no official figures for the number who remain in custody but diplomats say it is at least three thousand. Mr. Kifle says the opposition is determined to pursue its peaceful struggle to get its leaders freed and the democratic rights of all Ethiopians respected. At the end of the day, he says, “our cause will win.”