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Last Updated: Monday, 11 June 2007, 17:13 GMT 18:13 UK
Ethiopian protest leaders guilty
(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 courts are not independent
A court in Ethiopia has found 38 senior opposition figures guilty of charges connected to mass protests after disputed elections two years ago.

The charges ranged from armed rebellion to "outrage against the constitution".

Sentencing is next month and they could face the death penalty, says the BBC's Elizabeth Blunt in Ethiopia.

Hundreds of thousands took part in demonstrations complaining of fraud and vote-rigging by Prime Minister Meles Zenawi's government in the 2005 polls.

The opposition leaders refuse to recognise the court and did not present evidence in their defence.

The judge said that because they had failed to defend themselves he had no option but to find them guilty.

One leader of the opposition Coalition for Unity and Democracy in London, found guilty in absentia, told the BBC it was "very sudden and tragic news".

Heavy criticism

Almost 200 people died in two waves of protests.

The CUD blamed the deaths on the security forces but Mr Meles accused the opposition of 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 says it was cheated out of victory.

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.

Two months ago, a judge threw out controversial charges of attempted genocide and treason against 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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