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Last Updated: Thursday, 11 January 2007, 10:38 GMT
Mengistu is handed life sentence
Mengistu Haile Mariam
Mengistu Haile Mariam has lived in exile for 15 years
Exiled former Ethiopian ruler Mengistu Haile Mariam has been sentenced to life in prison on genocide charges.

The former leader was found guilty last month after a 12-year trial, although he is living in Zimbabwe.

After his conviction, Zimbabwe said it would not extradite him and many fear he will never face justice.

In a notorious campaign - known as the Red Terror - thousands of suspected opponents were rounded up and executed and their bodies tossed on the streets.

Mengistu, who was born in 1937, could have faced the death penalty.

He has refused to recognise the legal basis of the trial, accusing those who overthrew him of being mercenaries and colonisers.

Leniency

Of the 73 people put on trial, 33 defendants were in court for sentencing.

Considering the age of the accused, the court has rejected the prosecution's call for the death penalty and passed life imprisonment
Judges' statement

Most of the defendants also got life in prison and four received a sentence of up to 25 years in prison.

The BBC's Amber Henshaw said there was little reaction in court from defendants, relatives or victims.

She says many Ethiopians expected Mengistu and his closest officials to get the death sentence and it was clear the presiding judge wanted this.

But in the end the three judges decided on more lenient sentences.

"Considering the age of the accused... and the state of their health... the court has rejected the prosecution's call for the death penalty and passed life imprisonment," the court said.

Speaking outside the court one elderly member of the victims' committee said Mengistu should have got the death sentence.

He said the committee would be appealing against the decision.

Chief prosecutor Yosef Kiros said immediately after sentencing that they may appeal.

Another relative, whose father was killed by the Mengistu regime, urged Zimbabwe's leader Robert Mugabe to bring Mengistu to justice.

"May I at this moment in time call on the Zimbabwean government in reminding them that the blood of Ethiopians is shouting at the very door of Mugabe. Mugabe please react accordingly," Mulugeta Aserate said.

Rule

Mengistu's Marxist rule began in 1974, when he and a group of officials known as the Dergue, overthrew Ethiopia's emperor, Haile Selassie. The emperor had failed to come to grips with a poor harvest, and the situation escalated into a devastating famine.

MENGISTU HAILE MARIAM
1937: Born in Walayitta
1974: Emperor Haile Selassie overthrown
1977-78: Thousands killed during Red Terror
1994: Genocide trial in Ethiopia begins
2006: Found guilty of genocide

Mengistu soon emerged as the leader, and in the confusion following the emperor's death the government became embroiled in bitter clashes with students and leftist rivals.

Mengistu responded by brutally suppressing the unrest.

Declaring Ethiopia a Socialist People's Republic, he turned to the Soviet Union, which backed him in fighting an invasion from Somalia.

But a war for independence in Eritrea rumbled on, and rebellion erupted in the province of Tigray.

Moscow re-armed the Ethiopian military, but it gradually crumbled until in 1991 the combined Eritrean and Tigrayan forces were on the outskirts of the capital, Addis Ababa.

Mengistu then fled to Zimbabwe, where his friend, Mr Mugabe, gave him sanctuary.


SEE ALSO
Profile: Mengistu Haile Mariam
12 Dec 06 |  Africa
Red Terror 'hard to forgive'
31 Jul 03 |  Africa
A time to forgive?
25 Jul 03 |  Africa
Mengistu defends 'Red Terror'
28 Dec 99 |  Africa



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