42 killed in Ethiopian unrest

The death toll from election-related political unrest in Ethiopia rose to 42 yesterday when three people were shot dead as police broke up anti-government protests in the capital, Addis Ababa.

The latest round of demonstrations, which have prompted the British government to advise against all but essential travel to Ethiopia, entered their third day yesterday.

Children were among a dozen people wounded.

The violence broke out on Tuesday, after a day of peaceful protests, when riot police clashed with opposition supporters claiming that elections last May were rigged.

The shootings yesterday took place at Old Airport, a wealthy neighbourhood where many foreign expatriates live, according to doctors.

Sporadic gunfire was heard near the French and Dutch embassies, and protesters were seen throwing stones despite a heavy troop presence, but the situation was reported to have quietened down yesterday afternoon.

Those wounded included a 7-year-old girl who lost an eye after police hit her with a baton.

An 11-year-old boy, Yarad Wubetu, was shot in the stomach when he came out of his home to watch police chasing a group of young men, according to his mother.

"I was shot while I was trying to enter my house. The shooting was indiscriminate.

"They were attacking children and women," 24 year-old Mengistu Dagagnew told Reuters from a hospital stretcher.

The continuing crisis is a major setback for Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, who has been hailed by Prime Minister Tony Blair as a member of a new generation of African leaders committed to democracy and reform.

He was a member of Mr Blair's Commission for Africa, along with the president of Tanzania, President Benjamin Mkapa, whose country has also been beset by election-related violence this week.

At home, however, the government of Mr Meles, a former hardline Marxist rebel, has little tolerance for dissent and has been accused of severe human rights abuses in Ethiopia, in recent years one of Africa's most stable countries.

The British Foreign Office minister for Africa, Lord Triesman, called in the Ethiopian charge d'affaires on Tuesday to express "concern and alarm" at the deteriorating situation.

He appealed for restraint on both sides and for an urgent, independent investigation into the incidents to be carried out.

Dozens of activists, including opposition leaders, have been rounded up by police.

According to diplomats a total of 2,000 people have been arrested.

The opposition accuses the ruling party of rigging the May 15 elections that gave Prime Minister Meles' Ethiopian Peoples Revolutionary Democratic Front control of nearly two-thirds of parliament.

The opposition Coalition for Democracy and Unity has spearheaded the continuing protests against the alleged poll-rigging since that time, accusing President Meles of clinging to power by fraud.

In June, after police killed 22 and arrested 600 anti-government demonstrators in an earlier round of protests, Mr Meles declared a state of emergency in Addis Ababa.

On a separate front, Ethiopia has been engaged in a new round of sabre-rattling on its border with Eritrea, which has triggered fears of a renewed border war.

Although Eritrea is being blamed for the latest rise in tensions, both sides have moved troops and military hardware closer to the border in the past 10 days.

"This potentially volatile situation could lead to a renewed outbreak of war," said Maj. Gen. Rajender Singh, commander of UN peacekeepers in Ethiopia and Eritrea, who patrol a buffer zone along the border.

"If not addressed, if we do not take measures, if the international community does not act, maybe the situation may deteriorate to a level where the worst can happen - and that is war." The two neighbours fought a costly two-and-a-half year border war until 2000.

The conflict was famously described by a senior UN official as "two bald men fighting over a comb."


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