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Ethiopian Opposition Leaders Refuse to Enter Pleas in Treason Trial

More details have emerged about a trial of Ethiopian opposition leaders, journalists and human rights activists that began in Addis Ababa Thursday.

Witnesses say all but three of the 91 defendants present refused to enter a plea. The presiding judge entered pleas of "not guilty" for all of them.

Leaders of Ethiopia's main opposition, the Coalition for Unity and Democracy party made short statements dismissing the charges as false before being cut off by the judge.

Ethiopian officials have charged 129 people in all with genocide and treason, which carry maximum sentences of death. The charges stem from opposition-led, anti-government protests last year in which more than 80 people died.

About 38 of the people charged are abroad and are being tried in absentia. That group includes five Voice of America journalists in Washington who have worked with VOA's Amharic-language service.

The court adjourned the trial until March 1.

The human rights organization Amnesty International has called on Ethiopia to release the detainees. Amnesty says the defendants were imprisoned "solely on account of their non-violent opinions and activities."

Some information for this report was provided by Reuters.