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Ethiopia Says Sentenced Opposition Figures Request Pardon

An Ethiopian official says 35 opposition leaders and activists who were sentenced to life in prison Monday have requested a pardon.

Bereket Simon, an advisor to Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, tells VOA English to Africa service that the defendants submitted a paper in which they admit to trying to overthrow the government.

He says if Ethiopia's Pardon Board accepts the request, the opposition figures could be released from prison.

Negotiations to release the opposition leaders were first reported last month, shortly after an Ethiopian court convicted them on charges that included "outrages against the constitution."

Ethiopian prosecutors had accused the defendants of inciting violence and attempting to drive the government from power following the 2005 elections.

Human rights groups condemned their trial and conviction as a sham.

In the interview, Simon denied allegations that the trial was politically motivated.

The Ethiopian opposition gained a record number of parliamentary seats in the 2005 vote. However, groups claimed the vote was rigged to keep Prime Minister Meles Zenawi in power and organized protests.

The Ethiopian government used force to stop the protests, killing at least 193 people.