January 01, 2009

US concern over Ethiopia opposition arrest

US concern over Ethiopia opposition arrest

ADDIS ABABA (AFP) — The US embassy in Addis Ababa on Wednesday voiced concern over the fate of an opposition leader who was jailed after her pardon from a life sentence was revoked.

Birtukan Midekssa, head of the Unity for Democracy Justice party, irked the regime when she reportedly claimed during a recent visit to Europe that she had never voiced remorse or acknowledged any mistake to obtain her pardon in 2007.

"The United States is concerned about the government of Ethiopia's arrest of Unity for Democracy and Justice Party leader Birtukan Midekssa," the embassy's information officer Darragh Paradiso told AFP.

"We are particularly concerned by reports that Birtukan's pardon has been revoked and she has begun a life sentence in prison."

The 35-year-old woman, who was detained with dozens of opposition figures and supporters in the aftermath of disputed 2005 elections, was last week given a three-day ultimatum by the authorities to confirm or deny the reports.

The justice ministry announced on Tuesday that she has resumed serving her life term.

The United States, a staunch Ethiopian ally and the country's top aid contributor, called for more political freedom.

"A vibrant opposition, independent media, and a robust civil society are essential elements of any democracy," Paradiso said.

"The United States looks to the government of Ethiopia to provide the political space necessary for them to function. Steps that appear to criminalise dissent impede progress on democratisation," he added.

Birtukan's party made its most spectacular electoral gains ever in the 2005 polls and cried foul over reported fraud, claiming it was robbed of victory by Prime Minister Meles Zenawi's ruling party.

The ensuing unrest left close to 200 civilians dead and drew international condemnation.

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