11/04/07 (B390) BBC : Ethiopia genocide charges dropped (En Anglais -Info lectrice)

An Ethiopian
judge has quashed controversial charges of attempted genocide and treason
against 111 people arrested after election protests.

Twenty-five accused, mostly journalists and publishers, have also been acquitted
of all charges.

However several opposition leaders remain in custody, accused of trying to
violently overthrow the government.

Amnesty International says the charges of genocide were « absurd »
and that the accused are « prisoners of conscience ».

The accused have always said the trial was political and all but two have
refused to co-operate.

Almost 200 people died in two waves of protests over alleged vote-rigging
– denied by Prime Minister Meles Zenawi.

The genocide charges related to accusations that members of Mr Meles’ Tigray
community were targeted during the protests.

The opposition Coalition for Unity and Democracy blames the deaths on the
security forces.

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

Prison birth

« The prosecution has not proved the charges levelled against the 25 journalists, »
presiding Judge Adil Ahmed told the court before ordering prison authorities
to free them immediately.

They have been in custody for 15 months and the AP news agency reports that
one of those to be freed is a female journalist who gave birth in prison.

Another man, Kassahun Kebede from the Ethiopian Teachers’ Association, was
acquitted last week.

The other 85 still face four charges, including attempting to overthrow the
government through an armed struggle and crimes against the constitution,
which could carry life in prison or the death penalty.

The judges ordered them to prepare a defence case and adjourned the trial
until the end of the month.

Several thousand people were arrested after the protests, although most have
since been released.

Mr Meles blames the opposition for 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 say they were cheated
out of victory.