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Ethiopians rally in rare protest
News

Ethiopians rally in rare protest

Birtukan Medeksa (UDJ - www.kinijitethiopia.org)
Birtukan Medeksa is seen by some as a national heroine

The main opposition parties in Ethiopia have held a march in Addis Ababa to call for the release of their imprisoned leader, Birtukan Medeksa.

The demonstrators handed in a petition to the authorities about Ms Birtukan.

She is serving a life sentence, after officials revoked a pardon which had previously seen her set free.

Ethiopia has very little tradition of public protest, the BBC's Elizabeth Blunt in Addis Ababa says, and passers-by stopped and stared in amazement.

Almaz GebreEgziabher, Ms Birtukan's mother, hopes the demonstration may help her daughter be released in time for the Ethiopian Easter this weekend.

"I am happy. I saw her last Saturday, and she is quite well. But I am praying that, with the help of God, she might be released tomorrow or the day after so that she can spend Easter with me and her daughter," she said.

Ms Birtukan's five-year-old daughter and mother are the only people who are being allowed to visit her in jail.

She was among more than 100 people jailed for political offences after Ethiopia's election in 2005, most of whom have since been pardoned.

At the time of her re-arrest her colleague Berhanu Nega, who was also pardoned and now lives in exile, told the BBC it showed the government "was hell-bent on staying in power".

Ms Birtukan is a former judge and was one of the younger and more charismatic leaders of the coalition which did well against the ruling party in the 2005 elections.

Our correspondent says that while in jail facing charges of treason, she became even more of a heroine, attracting widespread sympathy as a single mother separated from her baby daughter.

Mistakes

After the opposition leaders were pardoned and released last year, she emerged as the leader of a new coalition, the Union for Democracy and Justice (UDJ), painstakingly stitched together from various opposition groupings to contest elections in 2010.

The government news agency, quoting the ministry of justice, said her pardon had been revoked because she had denied requesting her pardon.

Ms Birtukan's problems started when she spoke to journalists abroad about the way the opposition leaders were released, our correspondent says.

She talked about negotiations which had taken place between the opposition and government, with the help of a panel of elders, before their pardon was granted.

The government prefers to lay emphasis on a document signed by the prisoners, regretting any mistakes they had committed and asking for pardon.

This implies that their release was part of a normal judicial process, rather than in any way part of a negotiated political deal.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/8001962.stm

 


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UDJ holds a fake protest rally in Ethiopia

Source: Ethiopian Review

April 16th, 2009

EDITOR'S NOTE: The so-called "opposition" Unity for Democracy and Justice Party (UDJ) held a demonstration in Addis Ababa today in which 250 carefully screened individuals participated. The UDJ leaders said that the protest was held to demand the release of their "leader" Birtukan Mideksa, but what they actually did was give legitimacy to the illegitimate regime of Tigrean People Liberation Front (Woyanne) ahead of next year's general elections. How much political benefit the Woyanne regime has gained by this fake little rally is reflected on the headlines of major international news organizations. Here are some of them:

VOA: "Ethiopia's Opposition Holds First Rally Since 2005r43;
AFP: "Ethiopian opposition stages rare protest"
Reuters: "Ethiopians stage first protest since '05 violence"
BBC: "Ethiopians rally in rare protest"
APA: "Ethiopian opposition demonstrate to demand release of their jailed leader"

CNN and others will no doubt echo the same story. The following is full text of the reports by VOA, BBC and others:

By Peter Heinlein | VOA

Supporters of imprisoned Ethiopian political leader Birtukan Mideksa have marched in the streets of Addis Ababa to demand her release. The march was the first officially sanctioned political demonstration since the violent protests of 2005.

A carefully controlled group of 250 people marched to the offices of Ethiopia's president and prime minister Thursday to present petitions demanding freedom for opposition leader Birtukan Mideksa.

The 35-year-old former judge was first jailed after the disputed 2005 elections, in which her party claimed victory. She was among dozens of opposition leaders sentenced to life, but later released after a pardon agreement with the government.

Birtukan was re-arrested in December and ordered to serve out her life sentence after rejecting a government demand that she make a public statement acknowledging that she asked for the pardon.

Among those participating in Thursday's demonstration was former Ethiopian president Negasso Gidada, who left office after a dispute with the ruling party in 2001. Negasso, who is a member of parliament says Birtukan should be freed because her re-arrest was illegal.

"If she was found guilty, she should have been brought in front of a court, they should have accused her and brought her to court and had her sentenced again, but they didn't do that," said Gidada. "They just picked her from the street and put her in prison. And that is not the way justice would do."

Government officials have refused to budge in the face of strong pressure to release Birtukan, who is an unmarried mother of a four-year-old daughter. Communications Minister Bereket Simon told reporters last week the government has no intention of re-opening the case on humanitarian grounds.

"No. Not at all," said Simon. "It's a judicially resolved case and the government has no mandate to intervene in implementing the decision."

A spokesman for the Unity for Democracy and Justice party, Hailu Araya, says opposition leaders plan to make Birtukan's case a main issue in next year's national elections. He calls her imprisonment an affront to the rule of law.

"There must be a way out. Just because government officials say there is no way out doesn't mean there is no way out," said Hailu. "We have to, through persistence, through pressure, we want the rule of law to be respected. If the rule of law is respected, there is a way of having her released."

Unity for Democracy and Justice party officials say the permit allowing 250 people to march Thursday was the first of its kind granted by the government since the violent post-2005 election protests that led to Birtukan's arrest. Those protests claimed the lives of nearly 200 opposition supporters killed in clashes with government forces.

Among those joining this latest demonstration was Birtukan's 72-year-old mother, Almaz Gebregziabhere, who has been one of the few visitors allowed to see her daughter in prison.

Birtukan served seven years on the federal bench, one of Ethiopia's youngest judges, before resigning in 2000 to run for parliament. She said at the time she was resigning her judgeship because of government interference in the judiciary.

Reuters: ADDIS ABABA, April 16 (Reuters) - Ethiopians marched on Thursday to demand the release of a jailed opposition leader in the first political protests since a disputed 2005 election ended in street violence that killed 199 people.

Birtukan Mideksa, the 34-year-old leader of the Unity for Democracy and Justice party (UDJ), was first jailed with other opposition leaders after the 2005 poll. She was pardoned in 2007 but then re-arrested last year.

The former judge has been in solitary confinement since December and went on hunger strike for 13 days in January.

"We are marching today to tell the government that the imprisonment of our leader is illegal," said Debebe Eshetu, a senior UDJ official who was also jailed in 2005.

"She has been put in jail to weaken our party and to warn politicians who are outside the same thing may happen to us."

Birtukan is seen by regional analysts as the country's foremost opposition politician and critics of the government say she has been jailed because of the threat she could pose at next year's parliamentary elections.

Experts expect Prime Minister Meles Zenawi's government to win that poll since the opposition was weakened by the imprisonment of many its top figures in 2005.

Ethiopian opposition parties routinely accuse the government of harassment and say their candidates were intimidated when Ethiopians went to the polls last April for local elections.

The Meles government denies it.

Former Ethiopian President, Negaso Gidada, who is now an independent member of parliament, took part in Thursday's march. He told Reuters there was no democracy in Ethiopia.

"I am convinced that our democratic rights and human rights are being abused," he said as the demonstrators marched on the prime minister's office and the palace of President Girma Woldegiorgis.

Guards barred them from entering the palace, but they were allowed to deliver a protest letter.

The demonstrators were given a letter in return that said Birtukan had broken the law and so could not be released.

The protest, which was approved by the authorities, was limited to 250 participants who all had to wear a government-issued identity badge. Security was low-key with only a small number of plainclothes police mingling with the crowd and almost no uniformed officers present.

Protesters waved placards, played music and shouted slogans but drew little visible support from passers-by.

"The government have killed people who protest so I would not shout like this," one onlooker who declined to be named told Reuters. "These people are very brave."

BBC: The main opposition parties in Ethiopia have held a march in Addis Ababa to call for the release of their imprisoned leader, Birtukan Medeksa.

The demonstrators handed in a petition to the authorities about Ms Birtukan.

She is serving a life sentence, after officials revoked a pardon which had previously seen her set free.

Ethiopia has very little tradition of public protest, the BBC's Elizabeth Blunt in Addis Ababa says, and passers-by stopped and stared in amazement.

Almaz GebreEgziabher, Ms Birtukan's mother, hopes the demonstration may help her daughter be released in time for the Ethiopian Easter this weekend.

"I am happy. I saw her last Saturday, and she is quite well. But I am praying that, with the help of God, she might be released tomorrow or the day after so that she can spend Easter with me and her daughter," she said.

Ms Birtukan's five-year-old daughter and mother are the only people who are being allowed to visit her in jail.

She was among more than 100 people jailed for political offences after Ethiopia's election in 2005, most of whom have since been pardoned.

At the time of her re-arrest her colleague Berhanu Nega, who was also pardoned and now lives in exile, told the BBC it showed the government "was hell-bent on staying in power".

Ms Birtukan is a former judge and was one of the younger and more charismatic leaders of the coalition which did well against the ruling party in the 2005 elections.

Our correspondent says that while in jail facing charges of treason, she became even more of a heroine, attracting widespread sympathy as a single mother separated from her baby daughter.

After the opposition leaders were pardoned and released last year, she emerged as the leader of a new coalition, the Union for Democracy and Justice (UDJ), painstakingly stitched together from various opposition groupings to contest elections in 2010.

The government news agency, quoting the ministry of justice, said her pardon had been revoked because she had denied requesting her pardon.

Ms Birtukan's problems started when she spoke to journalists abroad about the way the opposition leaders were released, our correspondent says.

She talked about negotiations which had taken place between the opposition and government, with the help of a panel of elders, before their pardon was granted.

The government prefers to lay emphasis on a document signed by the prisoners, regretting any mistakes they had committed and asking for pardon.

This implies that their release was part of a normal judicial process, rather than in any way part of a negotiated political deal.

AFP: Opposition protesters staged a rare demonstration in the Ethiopian capital Thursday, demanding the release of an official jailed for life in January.

Some 300 people massed outside the presidential palace and then marched towards Prime Minister Meles Zenawi's office in Addis Ababa in the first such protests since 2005, when disputed poll results sparked violence.

The group called for the release of Birtukan Midekssa, an opposition leader sentenced to life in prison after she reportedly denied ever expressing remorse to obtain a pardon in 2007 for treason and outrage against the constitution among other offences.

Birtukan, the head of the Unity for Democracy Justice (UDJ) party, had been detained with dozens of opposition figures and supporters following the 2005 elections.

"Our aim is to publicise the illegality of her detention, and to demand her immediate release. We demand the restoration of her pardon," Yacob Hailemariam, UDJ's deputy chief, told AFP.

Birtukan was only granted visiting rights by an Ethiopian court on Wednesday, but her release now depends on a government pardon board, which in turn will submit its decision to President Girme Wolde Giorgis.

"It was one big step in the whole process to have her family and lawyer allowed to visit the prison. We will resume our struggle to reach the next stage, which is to have her released," party spokesman Hailu Araya told AFP.

The UDJ made its most spectacular electoral gains ever in the 2005 polls but cried foul over reported fraud, claiming it was robbed of victory by Meles' ruling party.

The United States, a staunch Ethiopian ally and the country's top aid contributor, has expressed concern over the 36-year-old's re-arrest and called for more political freedom in the Horn of Africa nation.

Ethiopia's next general elections are to be held in June 2010.

Meles, whose security forces were blamed for using excessive force four years ago, has vowed to prepare law enforcement agencies to avoid bloodshed in time for next year.

Source: ER

http://www.ethiopianreview.com/content/2009/04/udj-holds-a-fake-protest-rally-in-ethiopia/

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