June 24, 2007 (ADDIS ABABA) — 38 Ethiopian opposition activists convicted after violent protests in the wake of contested 2005 elections have admitted their "mistakes", their lawyer said Sunday.
- Ethiopian opposition leader for the Coalition of Unity and Democracy (CUD) Hailu shawel, casts his vote at a polling station in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa May 15, 2005. (Reuters).
The lawyer said the Thirty-eight accused, convicted by the High Court on June 11 for violating the constitution and trying to launch a rebellion, had signed a document to accept responsibility for the violence — a move that could prompt their release.
"All the convicted 38 have agreed and signed a document accepting responsibility over the post-election violence. They have acknowledged to have made mistakes at that time," lawyer Wondawuk Ayele told AFP.
"The court had previously asked them to do so but they had refused. This is a new development and could finalize their release."
Ethiopia put more than 100 opposition figures on trial, accused of plotting a coup after disputed 2005 elections which the opposition claims were rigged.
The spokesman for Prime Minister Meles Zenawi on Sunday denied that a deal had been struck for the activists’ release.
"So far there hasn’t been any proposal from the government, nor has there been any mediation involving any other country," Bereket Simon said.
"I’m not aware of any developments regarding their release."
Earlier this year, the Ethiopian parliament approved a report which said 193 civilians and six policemen died during post-election violence in 2005 in one of the darkest chapters in the country’s recent past.
The violence in Addis Ababa and other cities in June and November 2005 amid protests over the May 15 polls "occured due to infancy of the democratic system of the country", the report said.
The figures compiled by the inquiry were three times higher than the government’s official death toll of 54 which prompted howls of protest from Western donors.
But opposition groups dismissed the report as "baseless", arguing that it failed to hold the State accountable for the bloody crackdown.