Addis Ababa, Capital : In what appears to be an escalation of recent debate about the question if popular revolts could happen in Ethiopia, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi this week accused the members of the main opposition coalition, Medrek, of inciting violence.
The opposition group rejected the charges stating that the government is trying to use them as a “scape goat” to avoid popular demands.
Speaking before Parliament on Tuesday, PM Meles said Medrek members have even partnered with the outlawed armed group Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) in their efforts to incite violence.
“What I want to say to Unity for Democracy and Justice (UDJ) members is…. that the government isn’t crippled, it does watch and listen and I want to tell them that they will pay a price for what they are doing,” Meles said.
It was a rare pinpointing of UDJ, a leading member of the Medrek coalition and occupant of the single seat the opposition has in the Federal Parliament. The remaining 546 seats are occupied by the ruling party EPRDF and its alliances.
The Prime Minister said that other than UDJ, Oromo ethnic groups, which are also members of the coalition, have sheltered OLF operatives inside them. “The opposition camp could be empty if we arrest all OLF members based on our intel,” Meles said.
Meles said the government has recently put in custody operatives of the OLF that are members of the opposition group after collecting ample evidence to prosecute them before courts. According to the PM, the government restrained from publicizing the names of the accused until the opposition “self confesses” that they are its members.
UDJ, now being led by former EPRDF members- former president Negasso Gidada (PhD) and defense minister Siye Abraha- was quick to reject that its members are part of efforts to incite violence.
In a statement released on Friday, UDJ said if indeed popular revolts happen in Ethiopia; it won’t be because of UDJ or any other group but of the public’s own demand and the government should not try to use opposition groups as a ‘scape goats’.
The other accused Medrek members followed suit in rejection. “As far as we are concerned they are our members, we are not aware of them being a member of OLF or other groups,” Merera Gudina (PhD), Medrek leader and outspoken Oromo opposition figure, told Capital on Friday.
Merera rejected the charges that his colleagues are operatives of the OLF, “the practice by the ruling party has been that every Oromo that does not sympathize with the ruling party is accused of being an OLF member. They have done this for years and even when we were in parliament we asked the government to provide us with names of the people but they failed to do that.”
Merera says the arrests could be part of “preventive detention” he said the government has adopted for years in order to preempt whatever protests it imagines. “I was told that some of the arrested are interrogated and accused of disseminating papers from the internet while other were told they had weapons; it is very troubling to imagine what will happen to them in the absence of the rule of law where one can defend oneself before the courts and receive a verdict based on evidence.”
On April 6, a day after Meles addressed parliament, the US-based rights group Human Rights Watch called on the government to immediately release those that are detained. “The Ethiopian government appears to be back to the old tricks of ‘detain first, ask questions later,’” said Rona Peligal, deputy Africa director at Human Rights Watch, in a statement. “The authorities should immediately free the Oromo opposition members unless they can bring credible charges against them.”
Ethiopia’s international partners should press the government to release the detainees immediately if it cannot credibly charge them, Human Rights Watch also said.
Late on Friday Medrek officials claimed security officials in Tigray regional state have stopped them from publicizing their meeting scheduled on Sunday at Tigray’s capital Mekelle. Medrek officials said authorities there said ‘it is not election time’ that they can call on people to attend the meeting going around in cars
Medrek said they are not yet told if the meeting was canceled
Former Tigray Gebru Asrat now chairs the opposition Arena Tigray for Democracy and Sovereignty which one of the six members of the Medrek coalition
Arena filled enough candidates for the first time in the oppoisont history to contest the ruling party’s strong base in Tigray
The ruling party own all the regional and federal seats of Tigray in May 2010 elections