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Ethiopia arrests opposition leader, journalist hurt

Ethiopia arrests opposition leader, journalist hurt

Mon 3 Nov 2008, 17:03 GMT

By Barry Malone

ADDIS ABABA, Nov 3 (Reuters) - Ethiopia said on Monday an opposition leader had been arrested for working with insurgent groups opposed to Prime Minister Meles Zenawi's government.

The Oromo Federalist Democratic Movement (OFDM) confirmed its general secretary Bekele Jirata was picked up on Thursday as he was going to his Addis Ababa office in what it called an abuse of rights.

"He was working hand-in-glove with terrorists," Bereket Simon, special advisor to Meles, told Reuters. "It is proven he had links with groups like the OLF." One of various rebel movements in the huge Horn of Africa nation, the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) has been fighting for independence for the southern Oromo region since 1993.

The Ethiopian government routinely accuses arch-foe Eritrea of backing the rebel group with training and financial support. Opposition groups say they are constantly harassed by the government despite operating within the law. "At this time, we are unable to have any meaningful dialogue with the authorities who ordered the detention," OFDM chairman Bulcha Demeksa told Reuters in an e-mail.

"The constitution and other human rights laws would have been our guarantor, but...this is not the case in Ethiopia." The OFDM in April accused the government of intimidation as voters went to the polls for the first time since post-election violence in 2005 killed 199 civilians.

The party said most of their candidates in the April local elections had been threatened and forced to pull out of the race. They ran less than two percent of their originally proposed candidates.

In a separate incident, Amare Aregawi, editor of Ethiopia's well-known Reporter newspaper, was attacked by two men as he left a parent-teacher meeting at his son's school in Addis Ababa on Friday, colleagues said.

"They jumped him from behind and hit him with rocks," said a senior editor at the Reporter, who asked not to be named. "They tried to kill him. We knew there had been death threats but we never thought it would come to this."

Amare was arrested in August after a large brewery brought a libel complaint against the newspaper but was released five days later on payment of bail.

The Reporter is one of Ethiopia's largest circulation publications and its editorials are often critical of Ethiopian government policy.

Amare was in hospital being treated for serious head injuries after he was knocked unconscious by his attackers.

Media watchdog Reporters Without Borders demanded an investigation, saying a show of firmness would convince others tempted to use "violence to settle scores with the press that such behaviour would not go unpunished."

Local media said two men had been arrested for the attack, one assailant and a taxi-driver used for a getaway. Police were not immediately available to confirm that. (Editing by Jon Boyle)

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