Ethiopia: Government arrests hundreds of opposition supporters

PM Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia
"In my opinion, the regime seems to have fears that Libya and Egypt- type of uprising could erupt in Ethiopia as well," Gebru Asrat

Ethiopia’s biggest opposition party, Medrek, said on Saturday that at least 200 of its supporters and members have been jailed in a crack down over the past ten days.

Arena-Medrek chairman, Gebru Asrat, told Sudan Tribune that most of the detainees were supporters and some were candidates in last year’s national election in which the ruling EPRDF party won nearly 100% of the total votes.

“Over 200 Medrek party members and supporters are arrested during the past ten days in Oromya region mainly in Wollega Zone” Asrat, a former Tigray regional president who was formerly a close ally of prime minister Meles Zenawi, said.

Since 2008, Ethiopia’s ruling party led by Zenawi has been accused of arbitrarily arresting hundreds of members of the Oromo ethnic group accusing them of helping the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) rebel group, labeled by Addis Ababa as a terrorist organization.

“We don’t exactly know why our members and supporters are being arrested nor did the government said a word but this is no surprise it absolutely is politically motivated” Asrat added.

“In the past years, many opposition members were arrested, killed or made disappear by the regime however this can’t be a solution to political situations here except to worsen it.”

The opposition leader said that he believed the arrests were related to events in North Africa and the Middle East. Protests in Tunisia and Egypt forced the countries’ leaders to step down. In Libya the US, UK and France have begun implementing a no-fly zone to protect civilians and rebels on Saturday. A rebellion against the rule of Muammar Gaddafi has seen much of eastern Libya fall out of government control.

“In my opinion, the regime seems to have fears that Libya and Egypt- type of uprising could erupt in Ethiopia as well,” Asrat said.

Some Ethiopian opposition groups have called for a similar uprising in Ethiopia.

At a press conference last week the Zenawi said that such uprising is impossible in Ethiopia pointing to last year’s elections, which his party won granting it another five years in power.

Another opposition party, the Oromo Federalist Democratic Movement (OFDM) has also said that its members have been arrested against members of the Oromo tribe in the vast Ormiya region.

A senior official from the OFDM, Bulcha Demeksa, a former MP told Sudan Tribune there had been arrests but did not provide figures.

However, sources have told Sudan Tribune 217 Oromo Federal Democratic Movement (OFDM) and 40 Oromo People’s Congress (OPC) supporters and members.

Meanwhile, an unconfirmed report has said that Ethiopian authorities have arrested government officials belonging to the Oromo People’s Democratic Organization (OPDO), a member of the ruling coalition.

It has been reported that over 150 high and mid-ranking OPDO have been arrested during the past few days and charged with corruption in Ethiopia

(ST)