Ethiopian leaders face sentences

A group of 38 Ethiopian opposition leaders found guilty of links to violent election protests in 2005 is to be sentenced shortly.
Among them are several of the capital's elected MPs and city councillors, including Berhanu Negga, mayor-elect of Addis Ababa.
The 38 originally faced treason and genocide - which sparked international condemnation and cuts in aid.
Their relatives say the 38 have signed a document which could see them freed.
The BBC's Elizabeth Blunt in Addis Ababa says this could be some form of apology or plea for mercy.
Armed rebellion
The Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD) leaders refuse to recognise the court or enter any defence - the reason why the judges said they were forced to find them guilty as charged last month.
Their offences included outrage against the constitution and, in the case of party leader, Hailu Shawel, and four others, inciting, organising and leading armed rebellion, for which the sentence is likely to be either death or life imprisonment.
But our reporter says the sentences may not be the end of the story.
The government has repeatedly said it cannot interfere in the judicial process.
However once sentence has been passed, then there may be the possibility of clemency or pardon.
Some 193 people were killed in protests at alleged rigging in the 2005 elections, won by Prime Minister Meles Zenawi's party.
The government has denied accusations that the convictions were intended to stifle political dissent.
But an opposition lawyer said the suddenness of the verdict exposed the trial as a sham and mockery of justice.
Hundreds of thousands took part in demonstrations complaining of fraud and vote-rigging.
Most of the dead were protesters killed by security forces.
An independent inquiry carried out by an Ethiopian judge concluded that the police had used excessive force.
He went on to accuse them of carrying out a massacre. The judge later fled Ethiopia, saying he had been put under pressure to change his findings and had received death threats.
The government points out that it introduced multi-party elections to Ethiopia after years of military rule.
In the elections, the opposition made huge gains but says it was cheated out of victory.
Three months ago, a judge threw out controversial charges of attempted genocide and treason against another 111 people arrested after the election protests.
The violence and the charges of election fraud have tarnished Mr Meles' image as a favourite of Western donors and one of a new wave of reforming African leaders.

posted by Ethiounited Moderator at2:09 AM


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