SIX parties form alliance

Six Ethiopian opposition parties formed an alliance on Thursday and accused the government of clamping down on dissent ahead of parliamentary elections next year.

The alliance parties hold only 80 of parliament’s 547 seats, but still represent the most significant opposition to a government that is a close ally of Washington.

The new alliance includes the United Ethiopian Democratic Forces (UEDF) and the Unity for Democracy and Justice party (UDJ), whose jailed 34-year-old leader Birtukan Mideksa is seen by regional analysts as the foremost opposition figure.

“Violations of democratic rights come … at a time when the general election is only a few months away,” UEDF leader Beyene Petros told reporters in the capital Addis Ababa. “The political space (should be) made conducive for free and fair elections.”

Analysts say the government of Prime Minister Meles Zanawi is likely to win next year’s poll as the opposition has been weakened since a 2005 parliamentary election ended in violence that killed 199 civilians.

Bereket Simon, the government’s head of information, rejected opposition claims the scope for political activity in Ethiopia was too restricted as “baseless accusations”.

“The political space is continually widening. We welcome the forming of this alliance. We believe it is good for Ethiopian democracy to see parties with the same programmes forming together,” he told Reuters.

Ethiopian opposition parties routinely accuse the government of harassment and say their candidates were intimidated when Ethiopians went to the polls last April for local elections.

The six parties will contest next year’s election under the banner of the Forum for Democratic Dialogue in Ethiopia (FDEE), while maintaining their independent structure and leadership.

The FDEE called on Thursday for Birtukan to be freed from prison, along with “several other Ethiopians incarcerated on political grounds”. They did not name the other prisoners.

Birtukan has been in solitary confinement since December and went on hunger strike for 13 days last month. She was jailed after the 2005 poll, pardoned in 2007, and rearrested last year.

Gebru Asrat, leader of the Arena Tigray for Democracy and Sovereignty Party, will serve as chairman of the alliance.

The other parties are the Oromo Federalist Democratic Movement (OFDM), the Ethiopian Democratic Unity Movement (EDUM) and the Somali Democratic Alliance Forces (SDAF). ( Source Reuter)