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Thursday, 12 April, 2001, 11:45 GMT 12:45 UK
Ethiopian police charge against students
Ethiopian students protest
The students want greater freedom of speech
By Nita Bhalla in Addis Ababa

Police in Ethiopia stormed a university campus in Addis Ababa on Wednesday, beating students who were demanding greater freedom of expression.

We have great minds and we want to use our minds

University student
Reports say about 50 students were taken to hospital afterwards and that several had severe injuries.

Witnesses say hundreds of police armed with rifles and batons started beating and firing at the students.

Education Minister Genet Zewdie has denounced the actions of the police calling them "illegal".

Free speech

The students were protesting against the banning of their newspaper and the outlawing of student council meetings by the university administration.

Blood on the walls of a dormitory corridor
The corridors of the dormitories were spattered with blood
Students say they were forced to flee but were pursued by the police even up to their dormitories.

Pools of blood, broken batons, shattered glass, and bullet holes in the wall were all that was left, when I visited the dormitories.

Students wept openly at what they say was an unprovoked attack.

The education minister was quickly on the scene. After a three hour meeting with the students she said the government had no responsibility for the actions of the police.


She said that the police had acted "illegally and unlawfully" and without orders.

The students have accepted her comments but say a number of basic issues need to be addressed.

Iyassu, a final year student in Ethiopian language studies, said: "We are human and we need our rights. The right to speak, the right to write and the right to have a newspaper of our own!

"The University has banned our paper. They have prevented any communication or discussion among us. We are learned people and we have great minds and we want to use our minds."

He says the students also want the issue of the constant presence of campus police to be addressed.

Agreement reached

On Wednesday night a consensus was reached and the minister has agreed to lift the ban on the student newspaper, student meetings and also the release of the arrested students.

She also agreed that the students should have a representative council nominated by students rather than university officials and has also promised to look into the issue of the presence of campus police.

Although this seems to be a step in the right direction, the students at Addis Ababa university remain sceptical and say they will wait for the implementation of these promises before they start celebrating.

But they warn that if the minister's words are just that, they will continue their struggle for their fundamental rights no matter what the cost.

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21 Mar 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Ethiopia
26 Apr 00 | Middle East
Iranian protest at press closures
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