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At Least 33 Protesters Killed in Ethiopia

November 2, 2005

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AP) _ Clashes between police and protesters erupted in gunfire and grenade explosions Wednesday, with police killing at least 33 people during a second day of renewed protests of Ethiopia’s disputed elections, a rights group said.

The independent Ethiopia Human Rights Council said in a statement sent to foreign embassies that the death toll was based on bodies taken to mortuaries in Addis Ababa.

At least 150 civilians were wounded, including a 7-year-old boy who was shot in the hip, according to doctors at five hospitals said. The doctors said 23 dead bodies were brought to the hospitals.

The violence followed clashes Tuesday between protesters and police that killed another eight people and wounded 43.

Hundreds of heavily armed riot police were deployed across the capital Wednesday as heavy machine-gun fire, rifle fire and loud explosions rocked Addis Ababa. Armored personnel carriers carrying Ethiopia’s special forces patrolled streets littered with burning tires and broken glass.

The fighting spread across the city, reaching the doorsteps of the British, French, Kenyan and Belgian embassies _ all located in different parts of the capital. Workers at U.N. headquarters were told not to leave their offices.

An Associated Press reporter saw federal police surround one hospital, dragging out and arresting young men. Witnesses said security officials were rounding up young people in various parts of the city.

Witnesses also said police fired assault rifles and lobbed grenades indiscriminately against civilians Wednesday.

Among the victims was Arabia Abdul Fatah, 13, who was wounded by shrapnel in her stomach and legs.

``The police were looking for rioters and burst into our compound. They fired tear gas and then threw a grenade,″ said her father, Abdul Fatal, a 44-year-old daily laborer. ``The police then started shooting in the compound. My daughter has never been in trouble with anyone.″

Tigist Daniel, 16, said she brought her 50-year-old mother to a hospital after police shot her in the stomach.

``All my mother was trying to do was save my brother because he had been caught up in the fighting. She ran out of the house to grab him and the police just shot at her,″ Tigist told The Associated press. ``They are shooting anyone who comes out of their house.″

Information Minister Berhan Hailu said the government was ``sorry and sad″ for the violence. But he blamed it on the main opposition party. Later, he said the situation was under control.

The renewed clashes erupted after 30 taxi drivers were arrested Monday for participating in demonstrations against the May 15 parliamentary elections.

The elections gave Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s Ethiopian Peoples Revolutionary Democratic Front control of 60 percent of the parliament.

Opposition parties made strong gains, but say the vote and counting were marred by fraud, intimidation and violence. They claim the ruling party rigged the elections.

The violence flared up hours after security officials arrested the leaders of the main opposition party.

Security officers have arrested all 15 members of the Coalition for Unity and Democracy’s central committee and about 1,000 supporters, a lawyer who works for the opposition party said on the condition of anonymity because of security concerns.

Opposition spokesman Gizachew Shiferaw urged supporters to stay calm and accused police of using excessive force.

The May elections were seen as a test of Meles’ commitment to reform his sometimes authoritarian regime. The U.S. government has touted him as a progressive African leader and a key partner in the war on terror.

But the opposition claims that hundreds of their supporters and members have been arrested in the past two months. At least 42 people were killed by police during protests in June, according to human rights groups.

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