Ethiopian opposition says third activist killed

Oromia, Ethiopia
The attack happened in Oromia, home to Ethiopia's biggest ethnic group, the Oromo.

* Man shot putting up posters, opposition says

* Police say man killed in argument

* Govt says opposition murder policeman, candidate

By Barry Malone

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia, May 10, 2010 (Reuters) – Ethiopia’s main opposition coalition said on Monday that one of its activists had been shot dead, describing it as a politically motivated attack ahead of this month’s national election.

Ethiopia’s last election in 2005 ended with street riots after the ruling party and the opposition both claimed victory.

“Girma Kabe was putting up posters for the election and was shot down in daylight,” Negaso Gidada, a leader of the eight-party Medrek opposition coalition, told Reuters.

“We think that it is a political murder but the police and the authorities claim it was because of a personal vendetta. We want it properly investigated.”

The government said the activist was killed in a fight and a suspect had been arrested.

“It’s the same old story from the opposition,” the government’s head of information, Bereket Simon, told Reuters.

“Their tactic seems to be searching for persons who have died of any cause and saying it is political. He was not even their member.”

The ruling Ethiopian Peoples’ Democratic Front (EPRDF) is expected to win the May 23 poll comfortably. The opposition says this is because their candidates are harassed. The government says the opposition is trying to incite violence.

The government said the 2005 violence had been planned to force an unconstitutional change. Security forces killed 193 people and seven policemen also died.

Foreign investors, eyeing oil and gas exploration and large-scale farming projects, closely watch the political climate in sub-Saharan Africa’s second most populous country.

In the election, Medrek is fielding the second-highest number of candidates after the ruling Ethiopian Peoples’ Democratic Front (EPRDF). It is seen as the biggest challenge to the 19-year-old government of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi.

The opposition says that three of its members have been killed since campaigning began. The ruling party says opposition members killed one of its candidates last week and murdered a policeman on Saturday night.

The government said on Saturday that a grenade was thrown into a meeting of the Oromo People’s Democratic Organisation (OPDO), killing two people and wounding 14. The OPDO is part of the country’s ruling coalition.

The attack happened in Oromia, home to Ethiopia’s biggest ethnic group, the Oromo, who number 27 million out of 80 million people.

(Editing by David Clarke and Maria Golovnina)