Ethiopian Opposition Candidate Stabbed to Death

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia — An opposition candidate for Ethiopia’s Parliament was stabbed to death early Tuesday in what opposition leaders said was part of a widening campaign of repression ahead of May elections.

The candidate, Aregawi Gebre-Yohannes, was killed at a restaurant he owned near the town of Shire in Ethiopia’s Tigray region by a group of six men who had shadowed his movements for the previous two days, said Gebru Asrat, a leader of the Arena party, a member of an alliance of opposition parties.

“They cut him, they stabbed him in the stomach, and he died,” Mr. Gebru said. “It’s becoming very difficult to run” in the elections, he added.

Bereket Simon, the government’s communications minister, dismissed political motives for the attack and said the opposition was trying to tarnish the government’s image.

“In a row with a certain individual, the individual killed him,” Mr. Bereket said. “What they are trying to do is search for casualties and label them Arena. They are not into constructive engagement.”

The death follows the beating of a different opposition parliamentary candidate in Tigray on Sunday by members of the Ethiopian Army, requiring his hospitalization, said Negasso Gidada, a former president of Ethiopia who has now joined the opposition. Like the man who was killed, the beating victim, Ayalew Beyene, had previously been arrested for attending opposition meetings or distributing literature during the campaign, he added.

“It is very bad news,” said Mr. Negasso, the former president. “My fear is such incidents may be intensifying.”

Given the last federal elections, the run-up to voting has been tense. Government security forces killed at least 193 demonstrators in unrest after the country’s 2005 federal elections, which the opposition said were rigged. Birtukan Mideksa, widely-seen as the country’s most charismatic opposition figure, remains in jail under a life sentence issued in the aftermath of the disputed poll. Both the ruling party and the opposition have accused each other of seeking to foment violence around this year’s vote.

In local elections in 2008, opposition parties won just 3 of 3.6 million seats — virtually none of the huge number of local and by-election seats being contested — after two of the major groups boycotted, citing intimidation and harassment, according to the State Department’s human rights report on Ethiopia.

Mr. Bereket, the government minister, who is also a senior official in Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front, said the candidate beaten on Sunday had been pressuring a student who was not aligned with the ruling party to read opposition campaign literature, and that the two had fought as a result.

Ethiopia’s opposition has sharply criticized the Obama administration for what it views as Washington’s failure to speak out on human rights abuses by Mr. Meles’ government, which has been a major American ally in pursuing Islamists in Somalia.

“They are partners in development with the Ethiopian government but I don’t think they are partners in freedom and democracy,” said Andualem Aragie, an official with Birtukan’s Unity for Democracy and Justice party, in a Jan. 29 press conference.

[original]

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