Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Ethiopia's Regime Stymies Opposition, Critics Assert Rebels Who Ousted a Police State Are Now Being Accused of Intolerance

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Ethiopia's Regime Stymies Opposition, Critics Assert Rebels Who Ousted a Police State Are Now Being Accused of Intolerance

Article excerpt

THE government that ousted one of Africa's most brutal dictatorships from Ethiopia and promised democratic reforms two years ago is showing less and less tolerance for dissenters.

The regime of Meles Zenawi has stymied opposition parties, dismissed outspoken professors, and has moved to gain control over key non-government organizations that could provide independent criticism of the government, say Ethiopian critics, Western diplomats, and human rights organizations.

Mr. Meles has "brought peace and eliminated the police state," a Western diplomat in Addis Ababa says. But "outside of Addis, {opposition} political party offices seem to be all closed down. The government does not want any independent, non-political associations."

In the wake of some journalists being questioned by police, "self-censorship has become the rule," says an independent Ethiopian journalist. "I wish they {the government} were a little more thick-skinned."

Chaired by Meles, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) led the final advance on Addis Ababa that overthrew the 17-year dictatorship of Mengistu Haile-Mariam in May 1991 and brought a 30-year civil war to an end. Meles became interim president, called for a national conference, and invited ethnic groups to form political parties. Most have.

In recent months, however, many opposition parties have been running into administrative roadblocks, allegedly set up by the government, such as denial of access to office space, say diplomats in Addis Ababa. Ethiopian human rights advocate Mesfin Wolde Mariam claims bank accounts of some opposition parties have been frozen.

Meaza Birru, spokeswoman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, denies both allegations.

But there are other indications of political tightening. Several southern parties were dismissed from the transitional government, which is dominated by the northern Tigre ethnic group, for disagreeing with state policies. The nation-wide Ethiopian Teachers Association (ETA), another source of political dissent, has been effectively neutralized in recent months with the closing of most of its offices.

Ms. Meaza says the ETA, which includes secondary school teachers, has two sets of leaders claiming to be legitimate. …

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