Home | News    Friday 17 February 2006

Jailed Ethiopia opposition CUDP head risks blindness - EU

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Feb 16, 2006 (ADDIS ABABA) — The jailed chairman of Ethiopia’s main opposition party may go blind if he does not get medical attention, members of a European Union delegation who visited him in prison on Thursday said.

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Hailu Shawel

European Union Development Commissioner Louis Michel held three hours of talks with Hailu Shawel and other top opposition leaders who were arrested last year on treason charges, his spokesman Amadeu Altafaj told Reuters.

An Ethiopian official said the government had not neglected the health situation of Hailu, who is a known diabetic, and that he was getting medical attention.

Michel also met Prime Minister Meles Zenawi during a visit aimed at restarting political dialogue in the Horn of Africa country and new discussions were due on Friday, Altafaj said.

Western donors have cut direct aid to Addis Ababa over a crackdown on the opposition and the media after elections last May. Senior CUD figures and 13 journalists are among 131 people charged with treason and planning to commit genocide.

Altafaj said the meeting in prison took place without interference, describing this as a positive sign.

"It shows Prime Minister Meles Zenawi and the opposition hold the EU as a constructive interlocutor," he said.

But while the EU delegation found no physical deterioration in the conditions of the prisoners, "we feel some of them need urgent medical attention," Altafaj added.

He expressed particular concern about Hailu, chairman of the opposition Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD).

"We feel Mr Hailu’s situation is of great concern to us. He requires appropriate medical attention as soon as possible," Altafaj said. "He may lose his eyesight if he does not get medical attention."

Asked about Altafaj’s comments, an information ministry spokesman told Reuters: "He (Hailu) is getting medical attention based on recommendations of doctors who are treating him."

The Ethiopian government last year arrested thousands of opposition members and others after two bouts of violence struck the capital Addis Ababa, in July and November, over the disputed results of a May 15 parliamentary election.

At least 82 people were killed in clashes with police and soldiers. Meles accused the opposition of plotting to incite violence, through street demonstrations, to topple him.

The CUD and other opposition parties which gained parliamentary seats in the vote have accused the government of vote fraud and intimidation. The CUD says the charges against its leaders are politically motivated.

Western donors fund about 10 percent of Ethiopia’s budget.

(Reuters)

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