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Tuesday, 8 May, 2001, 13:28 GMT 14:28 UK
Ethiopian academics arrested
Police corner a demonstrator
Thirty died in Addis's worst riots for 10 years
By Nita Bhalla in Addis Ababa

The crackdown on those believed to be responsible for last month's riots has continued, with the arrest of two of Ethiopia's leading academics.

Professor Mesfin Wolde Mariam and Dr Berhanu Nega were arrested by the federal police on Tuesday morning and are now being held under heavy police guard in the capital's state prison.

We never encouraged violence

Professor Mesfin Wolde Mariam
In recent weeks, they have been accused by the government of instigating the student protests which resulted in the deaths of more than 30 people and damage worth millions of dollars.

They have however constantly rejected the allegations.

Professor Mesfin Wolde Mariam, aged 71, who is the former head of the Ethiopian Human Rights Council was taken by armed police officers from a café near his home at about 1100.

At the same time, Economist Dr Berhanu Nega, who is in his early 40s, was arrested at his office in the Jan Meda district in Addis Ababa.

Staff at Dr Berhanu's office said that four armed policemen and one plainclothes security officer stormed in, declaring that they had been ordered by the central prison to detain him for questioning.

Respected academics

A panel discussion looking at human and academic rights took place between the students and the scholars the day before the student protests began, but the two scholars reject allegations that they encouraged students to take violent measures.

"We believe that we carried out our duties and taught the students to know and understand their rights. The issues we spoke about were pertinent to the human rights provision of the constitution", said Prof Mesfin in a recent interview.

Detained students
Thousands of students were held by police after the riots
"We merely informed them of their basic human rights - and we never encouraged violence", he added.

The two academics are widely respected in Ethiopia, but are considered controversial characters for their outspokenness, in a society where a culture of secrecy and suspicion still exists.

They have been detained at the Makalawi state prison in accordance with a court warrant, and are expected to appear before court as soon as police have completed their investigation.

The Ethiopian Human Rights Council Office and Dr Berhanu's home were this morning being searched by armed police looking for evidence.

Their arrest is part of a major police crackdown that is under way in the country with hundreds of jobless youths, opposition members and students being detained.

However, critics in Addis Ababa say the government is seeking to deflect attention away from its poor handling of the university protests.

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See also:

21 Apr 01 | Africa
Anger over Ethiopian detainees
18 Apr 01 | Africa
More clashes in Addis Ababa
21 Mar 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Ethiopia
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