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Ethiopia Dismisses Rights Group Accusation

Ethiopia has denied that a new anti-terrorism law passed Wednesday will undermine the fundamental human rights of ordinary Ethiopians.

Human Rights Watch criticized the law as ambiguous and said the government would use it to crack down on diseenting views.

The rights group also urged

legislators to redraft the anti-terrorism bill, but parliament passed it into law unchanged.

Ethiopia insists the law is necessary because it faces growing threats of destabilization from several internal rebel groups.

"As everybody knows, Ethiopia intervened in Somalia because these terrorist, misfit groups declared war on Ethiopia…and they have been sending many subverting groups which have been inflicting many damages on Ethiopia," said Bereket Simon, Ethiopia's communications minister

He said the constitution mandates the government to defend its territory against rebels.

"Ethiopia has every legitimate right to defend itself and that was supported by international law as well as the constitution of Ethiopia," he said.

Simon said the legislature backs the government's effort in fighting terrorism.

"By the way, Ethiopia has approved government's plan to take action against extremist (and) this was approved by parliament. We have strictly adhered to the constitutional prerogative of Ethiopia," Simon said.

Human Rights Watch recently said the government could use the anti-terrorism law to define criticism of the government as a "terrorist act". But Simon dismissed the accusation as baseless.

"The Ethiopian government cares for the rights of the Ethiopian people more than what the Human Rights Watch does. Secondly the Ethiopian constitution obliges the government…to respect human rights and other civil and political rights of citizens and the people," Simon said.

He denied President Meles Zenawi's government is clamping down on the opposition.

"The government hasn't went (gone) out of its mandate to stifle any dissent. In fact on the contrary, by focusing on the terrorists, the Ethiopia government is working to ensure that all citizens going to view their democratic rights in the best way," he said.

Simon said the government is protecting Ethiopians from terrorists.

"It is the terrorists who are causing fear and intimidation and they are the menace for us. And by adding some law so that we strengthen the fight against terrorism," Simon said.

Some political observers say the new law criminalizes any speech the government would interpret as encouraging terrorism.

But Simon denied the charge, saying Ethiopia simply adopted the anti-terrorism law from the West.