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Last Updated: Monday, 9 April 2007, 12:43 GMT 13:43 UK
Ethiopia genocide charges dropped
(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 government controls the court
An Ethiopian judge has quashed controversial charges of attempted genocide and treason against 111 people arrested after election protests.

Twenty-five accused, mostly journalists and publishers, have also been acquitted of all charges.

However several opposition leaders remain in custody, accused of trying to violently overthrow the government.

Amnesty International says the charges of genocide were "absurd" and that the accused are "prisoners of conscience".

The accused have always said the trial was political and all but two have refused to co-operate.

Almost 200 people died in two waves of protests over alleged vote-rigging - denied by Prime Minister Meles Zenawi.

The genocide charges related to accusations that members of Mr Meles' Tigray community were targeted during the protests.

The opposition Coalition for Unity and Democracy blames the deaths on the security forces.

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.

Prison birth

"The prosecution has not proved the charges levelled against the 25 journalists," presiding Judge Adil Ahmed told the court before ordering prison authorities to free them immediately.

They have been in custody for 15 months and the AP news agency reports that one of those to be freed is a female journalist who gave birth in prison.

Doctors treating injured protesters
The opposition blames the violence on the security forces
Another man, Kassahun Kebede from the Ethiopian Teachers' Association, was acquitted last week.

The other 85 still face four charges, including attempting to overthrow the government through an armed struggle and crimes against the constitution, which could carry life in prison or the death penalty.

The judges ordered them to prepare a defence case and adjourned the trial until the end of the month.

Several thousand people were arrested after the protests, although most have since been released.

Mr Meles blames the opposition for starting the violent protests.

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

In the elections, the opposition made huge gains but say they were cheated out of victory.

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