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Last Updated: Monday, 9 July 2007, 09:53 GMT 10:53 UK
Ethiopian call for death penalty
(Left to right): Human rights activist Mesfin Woldemariam and the opposition CUD's Birtukan Midek, Berhanu Nega and leader Hailu Shawel. File photo
The opposition leaders say the charges were political
An Ethiopian prosecutor has demanded the death penalty for a group of 38 opposition leaders found guilty of links to violent election protests.

Prosecutor Abraham Tetemke said they had tried to bring down the government.

Among them are several of the capital's elected MPs and city councillors, including Berhanu Negga, mayor-elect of Addis Ababa.

Some 193 people were killed in protests at alleged rigged elections in 2005. Most of the dead were protesters.

The 38 Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD) leaders originally faced treason and genocide - which sparked international condemnation and cuts in aid.

The judge had been due to pass sentence but he adjourned the hearing for a week to allow those convicted the chance to respond to the prosecutor's statement.

They have so far refused to recognise the court or enter any defence - the reason why the judges said they were forced to find them guilty as charged last month.

Armed rebellion

One woman sitting among the friends and relatives laughed derisively when the prosecutor demanded the death sentences.

The judge stopped the proceedings and she was escorted from the court.

The BBC's Elizabeth Blunt in Addis Ababa says the constant delays are hard for some of the prisoners' families to bear.

Doctors treating injured protesters
The opposition blames the violence on the security forces
Some women were visibly upset; others said bitterly that the government was deliberately delaying the case and playing with their lives.

Their offences included outrage against the constitution and, in the case of party leader, Hailu Shawel, and four others, inciting, organising and leading armed rebellion.

But our reporter says the sentences may not be the end of the story.

The government has repeatedly said it cannot interfere in the judicial process.

However once sentence has been passed, then there may be the possibility of clemency or pardon.

Their relatives say the 38 have signed a document which could see them freed.

Our reporter says this could be some form of apology or plea for mercy.

The government has denied accusations that the convictions were intended to stifle political dissent.

But an opposition lawyer said the trial was a sham and mockery of justice.

Hundreds of thousands took part in demonstrations complaining of fraud and rigging in the elections won by Prime Minister Meles Zenawi's party.

Most of the dead were protesters killed by security forces.

An independent inquiry carried out by an Ethiopian judge concluded that the police had used excessive force.

He went on to accuse them of carrying out a massacre. The judge later fled Ethiopia, saying he had been put under pressure to change his findings and had received death threats.


The government points out that it introduced multi-party elections to Ethiopia after years of military rule.

In the elections, the opposition made huge gains but says it was cheated out of victory.

Three months ago, a judge threw out controversial charges of attempted genocide and treason against another 111 people arrested after the election protests.

The violence and the charges of election fraud have tarnished Mr Meles' image as a favourite of Western donors and one of a new wave of reforming African leaders.

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