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Last Updated: Thursday, 29 December 2005, 16:34 GMT
Ethiopia threatened with aid cuts
(Left to right): Human rights activist Mesfin Woldermariam and the opposition CUD's Birtukan Midek, Berhanu Nega and leader Hailu Shawel. File photo
Many of the country's opposition leaders are now in jail
Western donors are considering withholding millions of dollars of aid to Ethiopia, after a recent crackdown on the opposition and the press.

The sum of $375m in direct funding for Ethiopian government programmes is reported to be under review.

More than 80 opposition leaders and journalists were in court in Addis Ababa this week, charged with conspiring to overthrow the government.

Aid donors' frustration with Ethiopia's government has grown in recent months.

In an interview with the BBC, the European Union's representative in Ethiopia, Timothy Clarke, said the EU was delaying some aid payments, although no formal decision to stop these had yet been taken.

Ethiopian Finance Minister Sufyan Ahmad told the BBC he was confident aid would not be reduced - and even if it was, this would have little effect on the overall budget, he said.

May's election was the most closely contested in Ethiopian history, and resulted in the opposition winning more than 100 seats in parliament.

But the opposition believed they had been cheated of victory, and took to the streets. The clashes left many dead - and Prime Minister Meles Zenawi accusing the opposition of attempting to overthrow his government.

Western governments tried to bring the parties together, but with limited success.

The opposition leaders, reporters and aid workers appeared in court on Wednesday a month after their arrest - complaining that they had not been allowed access to their lawyers.


In November the British ambassador to Ethiopia, Bob Dewar, put out a strong statement on behalf of the European Union and the United States.

Ethiopian protester in Germany

It called for respect for human rights, an end to mass arrests, the lifting of restrictions on the opposition and for the freeing of political detainees.

But a spokesman for the European Commission told the BBC the Ethiopian government had failed to reply to the statement, and therefore hundreds of millions of dollars of funding were now being reviewed.

The money involved had been earmarked for budget support.

These funds can be used at the discretion of the Ethiopian government, and is not tied to specific projects.

No final decision has been made.

But although the money would be missed by the Ethiopian authorities, it is unlikely that food aid, which regularly feeds around five million of the country's poorest people, will be touched, says the BBC's Martin Plaut.


Under Ethiopian law, the possible sentences on some 130 people facing charges linked to election-related violence for the various offences range from three years' imprisonment to the death penalty.

"The prison administration has denied us access to our lawyers to discuss the gravity of the charges. I have nothing to say," Hailu Shawel, chairman of the main opposition Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD), told the court, Reuters news agency reports.

Another CUD defendant, a lawyer, urged the judge to release them on bail, saying it was their right under Ethiopia's constitution.

"We are all responsible people with no criminal record and are leaders. (We) request the court to grant us bail," Yenenhe Mulatu said.

The opposition is made up of the two broad groupings - the CUD and the United Ethiopian Democratic Forces.

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