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United States SenateWhat started out as a wonderful and exciting exercise in democracy on May 15, 2005, when Ethiopia held its first contested multi-party election, has turned into a nightmare. Tension between the ruling party and the main opposition party, the Coalition for Unity and Democracy, has now taken a turn for the worse.
On Tuesday, November 1st, the special security forces surrounded a high school in Addis Ababa, the capital city of Ethiopia. A skirmish ensued between the security forces and the high school students, and later between their panicking parents and the security forces. Up to eight people were reported killed in the mayhem that followed.
The trouble spread to other parts of the capital city on Novermber 2nd. Initial reports indicate that over 50 people have been killed through out the country, but mostly in the capital city, and hundreds more have been gravely wounded. Tensions are running very high between residents and the security forces. The situation is very precarious.
Most of the leaders of the main opposition party were rounded up on November 1st and thousands of suspected supporters of the opposition have since been arrested and taken to military camps for detention far way from Addis Ababa. And most of the leaders of the two main civic organizations, the Ethiopian Teachers Association and The Association of Ethiopian Journalists, have also been detained. A number of editors and publishers have been thrown into jails, as a result, most independent dailies of the city have been shut down since the protests began.
The government banned demonstrations on May 16th for a month, right after the election, citing security concerns. Then it extended it for another month as it released election results piecemeal. On June 8th, some frustrated residents of Addis Ababa tried to demonstrate, but were met with lethal force. Thirty-seven people were shot dead by security forces, which were placed under the direct command of the Prime Minister when the ban on demonstrations was declared.
The government kept on dribbling the election results intentionally. A substantial percentage of the results was challenged by the opposition. Three months after the elections were over and after tampering with the vote counts, the ruling party finally declared itself a winner. The opposition balked at the outcome and asked for recounts in many precincts. Under the supervision of the European Union, the Carter Center and the African Union observers, the recounts took place. The European Union and Carter Center observers concluded that the recounts fall short of international standards and expressed their dissatisfaction. The Prime Minister refereed to the European Union report as “some lumps of truth covered with garbage” and the Head of the Delegation as a “colonial viceroy”.
Despite an overwhelming evidence of fraud by the ruling party and its killings of unarmed civilians, the United States government has been very reluctant to pressure the Ethiopian government into negotiations with the opposition. In fact, most Ethiopians now think the US prefers the present ruling party to stay in power because of stability concerns in the region. The policy makers in the State department seem to value empty pledges of stability by an Ethiopian dictator over democratic aspirations of the Ethiopian people.
The double standard towards Ethiopia is very baffling in light of recent US reactions towards other troubled regions with contested election results. The US government was openly supportive of the Orange Revolution in Ukraine and was on the side of Georgian people in Eastern Europe. Ethiopians have been screaming in all major cities, in front of the white house and congress, but to no avail. It is very disheartening to hear very cold diplomatic words of insensitivity from the State Department, if there are any in the first place.
I am pleading to you to voice my concerns to the State Department. As it stands, Ethiopia is on the brink of civil strife. In order to pacify the tension, the ruling party must desist from massacring innocent lives, release leaders of the opposition parties and civic organizations and enter into negotiation for the good of all Ethiopians.