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Last Updated: Wednesday, 9 November 2005, 00:29 GMT
Diplomatic pressure grows on Ethiopia
By Peter Biles
BBC News, Addis Ababa

Ethiopian TV riot
More than 40 protesters died in a week of violence
Ethiopia is slowly returning to normal after last week's violent unrest.

The capital, Addis Ababa, is busier, with more people apparently returning to work in defiance of a week-long stay-away called by the opposition.

The familiar blue taxis that have been off the streets in recent days are gradually re-appearing.

However, after dark, the city streets are still quieter than usual. Some bars and restaurants have been closed.

"Everyone goes home earlier in case they can't find transport," said one taxi driver. "Last week's violence has made people afraid."

The security forces continue to maintain a substantial presence on the streets.

Aid

The country is under renewed pressure from the international community to defuse the political crisis.

Opposition leaders have been detained in the wake of demonstrations that led to the killing of more than 40 protesters by the police.

On Monday, the US state department urged all parties in Ethiopia to prevent any action that might lead to violence.

Prime Minister Meles Zenawi
The opposition say Mr Meles rigged elections in May

Meanwhile, diplomatic sources in Addis Ababa have repeated a call for the immediate release of the political detainees.

Western countries have been critical of the recent government crackdown, but there are few levers of influence.

Ethiopia is a recipient of huge amounts of Western aid, but there is an obvious reluctance to cut donor funding, when millions of people are at risk because of hunger, poverty and disease.

A senior Western diplomat has made it clear that aid should not be used as a political weapon.

Ethiopia is also an important strategic ally of the West, and opponents of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi say that as a result he has been given an easy ride over his commitment to democracy and human rights.

However, ambassadors from EU countries and the US issued a strongly-worded statement at the weekend, calling on the Ethiopian government and the opposition to re-open their political dialogue.

"We've made our voices clearly heard", said one diplomat. "I don't think we've been silenced by Ethiopia being a strategic partner".

Releases

Diplomatic sources say the immediate release of the political detainees from the CUD opposition would be an ideal solution to the current crisis.

Then, the opposition would be encouraged to take up their seats in parliament after the disputed elections.

Hundreds are still held after the arrests
Hundreds are still held after the arrests
However, the detainees have only made one brief appearance in court so far, and their fate remains of concern.

Aside from the internal political crisis, the international community urgently wants to see the border dispute with Eritrea resolved.

"It is in both countries' economic interests to overcome this issue," said another diplomat.

A United Nations envoy, Kenzo Ohshima, is currently visiting the Horn of Africa to examine the problems facing the UN peacekeepers in the 25km-wide Temporary Security Zone along the border between Ethiopia and Eritrea.

Last month, the Eritrean Government banned all UN helicopter flights and has placed other restrictions on UN ground movements.

This has seriously hampered the peacekeeping operation.

After talks in Addis Ababa on Monday with Ethiopia 's Foreign Minister, Seyoum Mesfin, Mr Ohshima said he had been reassured that Ethiopia had no intention of initiating any military action.

However, thousands of Ethiopian troops have been moved closer to the border in the past week.

Mr Ohshima said he accepted the Ethiopian explanation that this was simply a defensive posture.




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