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Andrew Heavens blogs the violence in Ethiopia

A few weeks back, the elections in Ethiopia looked like a great victory for supporters of increased openness and democratization. Reporting on the apparent increase of the opposition from 12 seats to 174 in the 547-seat parliament, Abraham McLaughlin wrote in the Christian Science Monitor:

The campaign included surprising signs of openness: massive opposition rallies being allowed in the capital; coverage of the opposition in government-controlled media; and, for the first time ever, more than 300 international observers being invited in to watch the vote.

The increased openness demonstrated by Zenawi's government (he's been in power since 1991, winning three elections widely percieved as being rigged) doesn't neccesarily mean this election process is going to be a peaceful one. Students began rioting in the “Mexico” section of Addis Ababa on Tuesday, and taxi and bus drivers began a general strike on Wednesday. The government has responded by opening fire on demonstrators, killing at least 22.

Andrew Heavens, a freelance journalist based in Addis, has been in the heart of the situation, taking photographs for Reuters. His blog, Meskel Square, is currently filled with harrowing stories and images:

At one point a young man burst out of the morgue roaring with grief. He kept charging on the surrounding doctors, clenching his fists, desperate to find someone to take his grief out on. Seconds later he ran out of the room in tears.

Just for the record, I saw 11 bodies at the Black Lion and Zawditu hospitals, all with gun shot wounds, some to the head. As you know the official count at the moment is 22.

They all seemed to me to be in their twenties or at most their early thirties. Most of the protesters I saw earlier yesterday were much younger – see this picture of stone-throwing youths. The real worry is that this unrest will spread from the students to “street people” across the city, turning the protests into widespread unrest.

Youth armed with stones in the streets of Addis AbabaAndrew is posting his photos on Flickr. They include pictures of students protesting in the streets, youths armed with stones, and far too many photos of the wounded and dead.

The Ethiopian blogosphere is buzzing with speculation about whether Ethiopia is heading towards a Ukraine-style revolution. Opposition bloggers are especially vocal. Ethiopundit has a long post speculating that the election was stolen and arguing that the concession that the opposition had won seats in Addis was a smokescreen to disguise overall election fraud. Dagmawi favors statistical analysis, including speculation that record turnout favored the ruling party and indicates fraud.

Ethiopian Review believes that (opposition party) CUD spokesman Ato Lidetu Ayalew is being held without food and water by the government and asks people to contact the ICRC to ask for help seeking his release.

The Ethopian government appears to be cracking down on the independent press, revoking press permits for Deutchse Welle and Voice of America. Heavens is asking commenters on his blog to keep “comments moderate”, surely aware that his presence in Addis could also be threatened.

The Global Voices aggregator is following half a dozen Ethiopian blogs and may be useful to anyone interested in following developments as they happen.

Photo by Andrew Heavens

6 comments

  • ETW

    Will the world watch quietly as Ethiopia’s democracy teeters? What we Ethiopian-Americans want most of all is not more aid money—thank you Mr. Blair, but before you go waving your finger at the United States, perhaps you can stop assisting a government you have proclaimed “one of the most progressive in Africa.” You have propped up the Marxist government of Ethiopia too long, and now, look… your “progressive” buddy is pumping bullets into unarmed teenagers. And yet, you have not said one word against the man. What Ethiopia needs is leadership that actually LIKES the people… and Mr. Blair’s best African friend, does not like the people he leads… What kind of government, WHAT kind of government sprays live bullets into a crowd of teenagers? What incenses us is that this is supposed to be “good enough” for Africans. It’s just “good enough.” Well, this time, we want the best!

  • ade

    DELUSION ABOUT ETHIPIAN AND AFRICAN DEMOCRACY AND AID

    I am writing this after seeing what happened to the Ethiopian
    opposition and protestors on TV, that AID IS NOT THE ONLY ANSWER TO
    AFRICA.
    As majority of Ethiopians, I hoped the recent elections there would
    bring a viable mature opposition who can work as partners with the
    ruling party. But that was a delusion like most countries in Africa
    where so called leaders and ruling parties think every opposition is bad
    and unnecessary.
    I feel depressed when people like Museveni, Meles Zenawi or leaders who
    holds power for more than 10-15 years as emerging stars of democracy. I
    think aloud what make them different form Mugabe, Sani Abacha, Mubarak,
    Idi Amin Dada or Mobutu? Of course there was no difference; all of them
    were clinging to power forever.
    So I wondered if Mr. Tony Blair or Mr. George Bush demanded the
    following that there may be future for Africa

    1. No leader in Africa
    should be in office or power for more than 8 years or so.
    Surely out of 800 million or so people one can get as many as needed
    leaders or ’emerging stars of democracy’.

    2. Demanding African leaders on their state visits to Europe or America
    to bring along several opposition leaders.

    3. Ensuring the safety of journalists who are ‘bad’ or ‘good’.

    4. Demanding that parties rid of ethnic politics.

    5. demanding that african countries shouldn’t have more than 50,000
    soldiers and police.

    Unless these things are demanded by western countries, we Africans will
    continue like before watch hated leaders who repress their population
    for more than 15 years being hailed as ’emerging stars of democracy’.
    And like before we’ll just watch governments and their leaders who are
    feared like God or Satan pocketing any aid or loan in the name of poor,
    hungry, sick and homeless people.
    I was dreaming of my Ethiopia with several opposing parties who could
    sit and debate the country’s woes. But I guess I was dreaming ahead of
    time and I am sure that every single penny in AID to Ethiopia will make
    a differece for our leaders, not for us.

  • Hi i live in Adiss,17 years old and the recent situation in the country is troubling since the oppostion clearly won the election and the “Failed” gov’t is trying to take peoples voices and to tell u the fact as seeeing it from the ground it ain’t gonna work and about the debt relief plann their intention is good but with the appropriate gov’t and Mr.Blair can’t bulid a legacy for being the leader who eradicated poverty from Africa on our expense coz he gave this chance fro a dictatorial gov’t and they are not gonna get away with it “The mills of god god grind slow but when they grind they grind small”.

  • The solution to our problems in africa cannot be solved through debt cancellation and
    free trade alone. First,We Africans should learn to hold our leaders accountable.
    Secondly,The youths of Africa (emphasis west africa),especially the student union organisations
    should pull forces with their local labour union to ensure that there is separation of powers within the
    three arms of government.The root of Africas political crisis is as a result of executive
    lawlessness.
    Not much in my estimation will change until the student unions and labour organisations
    in africa takes over their traditional role of speaking for the peasants and
    pressure the governments across africa(emphasis on west africa) to become responsible.

  • […] The country has been in the headlines for a number of reasons over the past few weeks with worrying signs of “pre-famine conditions” in its southern Somali region and rumblings of renewed conflict across its northern border with Eritrea. But the story that continues to dominate the Ethiopian blogosphere is the aftermath of the country’s controversial May 2005 national elections. Thousands of people were arrested after crowds took to the streets in June and November claiming the poll had been fixed. At least 82 people were killed in clashes with armed police and soldiers. (See past Global Voices entries here and here.) Opposition leaders, journalists and alleged rioters are currently in jail, awaiting trial on charges that include treason and attempted genocide. […]

  • […] There were no confirmed reports of deaths during the protests, which were sparked by controversial national elections and the subsequent mass arrests of opposition politicians, journalists and alleged rioters. But the violence had ominous echoes of more serious confrontations in June and November last year, when more than 80 people were killed. […]

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