Thousands of Ethiopians from around the United States, Canada and Europe demonstrated today here in Washington. They called for the immediate release of opposition and civic leaders, journalists and others held in detention by the government of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. The demonstrators asked the United States to stop supporting a government they say is fraught with massive civil and human rights abuses. The rally moved from the State Department to Freedom Plaza and to the U.S. Congress. A number of U.S. officials addressed the rally participants, including U.S. Civil Rights Leader Reverend Joseph Lowery and Congressman Chris Smith, chairman of the House Africa Subcommittee.
Berhane Mewa is a spokesman of the groups that organized today’s rally. He told English to Africa reporter Ashenafi Abedje the objective of the demonstration was “to show the world and the American government that the situation in Ethiopia today is more than just an Ethiopian case. It should be an international concern about human rights abuses by the EPRDF government. Mr. Berhane says demonstrations by Ethiopians in the Diaspora are having a slow but certain impact. As an example, he noted “recent action by the European Union to put economic pressure by the Ethiopian government.” The spokesman says donor governments have “their own priorities and interests” and that persuading them to change policy takes time.
Mr. Berhane says the groups he represents will continue to impress upon donor countries the importance of “listening to the voice of the people,” that the status quo retards the advancement of democracy in Ethiopia. He says Ethiopian expatriates play a useful role in helping promote the cause of democracy – within and outside their country. Mr. Berhane notes that many of the leaders of the Coalition For Unity and Democracy are long-term expatriates who returned to their country to help build a democratic society. He said Ethiopians in the Diaspora long for the “opening up of political space and their full participation in the development of their nation.”