[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Languages
Last Updated: Monday, 16 July 2007, 10:38 GMT 11:38 UK
Life in jail for Ethiopia leaders
Doctors treating injured protesters
The opposition blames the violence on the security forces
An Ethiopian court has handed down life sentences to all of the main opposition leaders convicted of links to violent election protests in a major trial.

Eight of the 38 opposition figures in court were given shorter prison terms. The prosecution had demanded the death penalty for them all.

They refused to recognise the court, saying the trial was political.

Their relatives say the detainees have signed a document which could pave the way for their release.

High court judge Adil Ahmed also barred the 30 Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD) leaders from voting or standing for election. Five were sentenced in absentia.

PROTEST SENTENCES
In court:
Life: 30
15-18 years: 6
1-3 years: 2 journalists
In absentia:
Life: 5

"The accused have committed serious crimes, which caused the death of civilians and security forces and attempted to overthrow the government," he said.

"The accused have also failed to present to the court mitigating evidences for the charges brought against them."

But he said they did not deserve the death penalty.

Before the sentences, the US had warned that any judgement should promote reconciliation between the government and the opposition.

The BBC's Elizabeth Blunt in Addis Ababa says the trial has been closely watched in the city, a CUD stronghold.

She says that the entire front row of seats in the court was taken up by diplomats and a simultaneous English translation was provided.

Apology?

Five of the 38, including CUD leader Hailu Shawel, were also convicted of inciting, organising and leading armed rebellion.

Ethiopia's government has always stressed that the courts are independent and denies that the trial is political.

(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
Relatives of the 38, who include two women, say they have signed a document which could lead to them being freed. Our correspondent says this could be some form of apology or plea for mercy.

Among the 38 are the entire CUD leadership, several of the capital's elected MPs and city councillors, including Berhanu Negga, mayor-elect of Addis Ababa.

Prosecutor Abraham Tetemke said they had tried to bring down the government when he called for the death penalty last Monday.

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

Some 193 people were killed in protests at alleged vote-rigging.

Most of the dead were protesters, killed by security forces.

Tarnished

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 multiparty 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 111 people, including those sentenced on Monday, over 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.

Some donors have reduced aid over the case.


RELATED INTERNET LINKS
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites




FEATURES, VIEWS, ANALYSIS
Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit

PRODUCTS & SERVICES

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific