Ethiopia Arrests 35 Suspects In Alleged Coup Plot
By Peter Heinlein
26 April 2009
Ethiopian authorities have arrested 35 people suspected of involvement in a plot to overthrow the government. Those arrested are said to be followers of an exiled opposition leader living in the United States.
Government spokesman Ermias Legesse says the 35 arrested included two groups, one comprising soldiers and another that included civilian government employees and others. He tells VOA police found weapons and other incriminating evidence when they raided the homes of suspects. "We have got information from different people and we investigate it, and we have gone to the court and the court gave us an allowance to go to their home and we have checked their home and we have arrested 35 people and in their home we have got so many weapons, landmines, soldier uniforms, and their future plan what they want to do," he said.
All those arrested are said to be members of a group called "Ginbot 7," or "May 15th", which is the date of Ethiopia's disputed 2005 election. Ginbot 7 is led by Berhanu Nega, who was elected mayor of Addis Ababa in the 2005 election. But he never took office.
He was jailed and convicted of treason along with more than 100 other opposition leaders in connection with violent post-election demonstrations in which nearly 200 protestors were killed. He and the others spent 20 months in prison before being pardoned.
After his release, Berhanu went to the United States, where he is currently a professor of economics at Bucknell University in Pennsylvania. A page on the university Web site says he has urged the United States and other western nations to back democratic movements in Ethiopia and other African countries by withdrawing support for dictators.
Opposition Web sites such as "Ginbot 7' are blocked in Ethiopia. Berhanu has in the past accused Prime Minister Meles Zenawi of creating a one-party state.
In a telephone interview, government spokesman Ermias described Ginbot 7 as an illegal organization. "It's not registered as a legal party, and not recognized by the government. It is an illegal party. The groups and the party, who are an illegal party, we call it Ginbot 7. That's our issue," he said.
Ermias declined to say what charges would be filed against those arrested, saying that would be up to the Justice Ministry. He also declined to identify any of the suspects. He said they would all be brought before a judge within a few days.
The arrests come as Ethiopia is beginning preparations for its next parliamentary election in May, 2010. With a little more than a year until election day, most political observers consider the ruling Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front an overwhelming favorite to sweep the polls.
Party officials have said one of their top priorities will be preventing the kind of violence that marred the 2005 vote.
In local and bi-elections elections last April, opposition candidates won only three of approximately 3.6 million seats being contested. The annual U.S. State Department human rights report was highly skeptical about whether the results accurately reflected the will of the Ethiopian people.