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Ethiopia Party, Biz Leaders Arrested

May 30, 2001

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AP) _ Police have arrested two senior members of Ethiopia’s ruling party and a dozen business executives in a crackdown on corruption.

Former Defense Minister Siye Abraha and Bitew Belay, a former member of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front’s central committee, were among those detained, Yemane Kidane, chief of staff in the Foreign Ministry, said Wednesday.

The arrests follow a split in the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, the core member of the four-party ruling coalition. Street violence and student protests have left more than 30 people dead, and the slaying of Kinfe Gebre-Medfin, Ethiopia’s top intelligence official, has shaken the ruling elite.

Over the weekend, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s office announced the dismissal of Lt. Gen. Tsadkan Gebre-Tinsay, the armed forces chief of staff, and Maj.-Gen. Abebe Tekle-Taimanot, commander of the air force.

No explanation was given, but it is believed they sympathized with 12 members of the central committee _ including Siye and Bitew _ who were expelled from the body in March.

The 12 were upset with the government’s conduct of the war with Eritrea and believed Meles was taking the Horn of Africa nation too far down the path of economic and political liberalization. There were also disagreements about how to tackle corruption.

``The majority of our problems are corruption at high levels,″ Yemane said. ``The dissenting group said there is no corruption and we have enough democratic practices ... Some of them were involved in corruption.″

Yemane said the arrests were not politically motivated.

Siye’s brother Asefa, who had worked in Meles’ office, was among those arrested on corruption charges.

A police statement published in the state-owned Addis Zemen newspaper on Wednesday said Siye, Bitew and Asefa were accused of facilitating the sale of state property to businesses controlled by their families.

Two executives of the Commercial Bank of Ethiopia, three officials of state-owned sugar factories and 10 other businessmen also were arrested for corruption, the police statement said.

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