Ethiopia: police attack Epiphany processions
At least 16 people were injured Jan. 20 as Ethiopian police cracked down on opposition protests in the capital, Addis Ababa, on the second and final day of celebrations marking Timkat, the Epiphany festival of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. Demonstrators joined up with religious processions around the city, and were attacked by police, who charged with truncheons. (South Africa Mail & Guardian, Jan. 20)
The repression has been accompanied by a crackdown on the press. A British journalist working for the Associated Press has left Ethiopia after being expelled for allegedly "tarnishing the image of the nation" and "repeatedly contravening journalism ethics. Anthony Mitchell left Addis Ababa for the Kenyan capital Nairobi, a day after the Ethiopian government gave the him 24 hours to leave the country, the news agency said. A statement published by the state-run Ethiopian News Agency (ENA) said Mitchell had repeatedly ignored warnings about alleged "misbehavior" and "disseminating information far from the truth about Ethiopia."
The protests came as a group of 131 leading opposition figures and journalists face charges of treason and other serious counts for allegedly fomenting a coup to overthrow Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. The opposition accuses Meles' ruling Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front of stealing the May 15 polls. The crackdown began in November after protests in Addis Ababa and other towns turned violent, with police killing at least 48 people. In June, at least 37 people were killed in similar unrest. (African News Dimension, Jan. 22)
Last May's polls were the most closely contested in Ethiopian history, and resulted in the opposition winning more than 100 seats in parliament. But the opposition believed they had been cheated of victory, and took to the streets.
After the new violence, the UK suspended direct aid to the Ethiopian government. Some 100 opposition leaders, journalists and aid workers remain in prison on charges ranging from treason to "genocide" in connection with the unrest.
To mark the Timkat festival, tens of thousands of Ethiopian Orthodox Christians march through the streets carrying replicas of the Arc of the Covenant, which they believe is kept safe in northern Ethiopia. (BBC, Jan. 20)
See our last post on Ethiopia.