Inquiry Triples Toll in Ethiopia Protests

By Anthony Mitchell
Associated Press
Thursday, October 19, 2006

NAIROBI, Oct. 18 -- Ethiopian security forces fatally shot, beat or strangled 193 people protesting election fraud last year, triple the earlier official death toll, a senior judge appointed to investigate the violence said Wednesday.

Wolde-Michael Meshesha, a vice chairman of the 10-member inquiry, accused the government of trying to suppress the results of the probe as Prime Minister Meles Zenawi's commitment to democratic reform is being questioned. He said the team was told to reverse its findings two days before it was due for release.

Ethiopian officials would not comment. The prime minister and other officials said at the time that demonstrators were trying to overthrow the government.

"These demonstrators were unarmed, yet the majority died from shots to the head," said Wolde-Michael, who is claiming asylum in Europe after receiving death threats in Ethiopia.

The judge and the other commissioners spent six months interviewing more than 600 people, including the prime minister, police officers, witnesses and government officials. A draft of their report, due to have been presented to parliament in July, said 40 teenagers were among those killed.

Six policemen were also killed in the June and November 2005 riots, bringing the overall death toll to 199, the report said, and more than 750 people were injured. Wolde-Michael said the figures could be higher because many people were too afraid to speak out.

The government said at the time that 26 people were killed in June, and 35 civilians and seven police officers were killed in November.

Wolde-Michael said police records showed that 20,000 people were rounded up in the protests. More than 100 opposition leaders, journalists and aid workers are on trial for treason and attempted genocide.

The unrest followed May 2005 elections that gave Meles's Ethiopian Peoples Revolutionary Democratic Front control of nearly two-thirds of Parliament. Opposition parties said the vote was marred by fraud, intimidation and violence.

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