Ethiopia says arrests 35 coup plotters

Sat Apr 25, 2009 4:37pm EDT

* Ethiopia arrests 35 alleged coup plotters

* Got weapons, bombs and landmines after raiding homes



By Barry Malone

ADDIS ABABA, April 25 (Reuters) - Ethiopia said on Saturday it had arrested 35 people it accused of plotting a coup planned by an Ethiopian-American university professor.

"A terror network formed by Dr. Berhanu Nega to wage armed struggle has been foiled by security forces," a government statement said.

Berhanu was elected mayor of capital Addis Ababa after parliamentary elections in 2005 but was jailed when the opposition disputed the government's victory.

Police and soldiers killed about 200 opposition protestors in street violence that followed the poll.

Berhanu and other opposition leaders were released in a 2007 pardon after which he went to the United States to teach economics at Bucknell University in Philadelphia.

"We raided their homes and got weapons, bombs, landmines, soldier uniforms and their future plans," government spokesman Ermias Legesse told Reuters. "Their plans and their strategies all came from Dr. Berhanu and his colleagues in the U.S."

Ermias said the accused included soldiers and civilians working in government ministries. Berhanu collected money for them in the United States, he said.

Berhanu's organisation 'May 15th' is named after the date of the 2005 poll. He has made statements in the United States saying it wants to violently overthrow the government.

Birtukan Mideksa, the 34-year-old leader of the opposition Unity for Democracy and Justice party (UDJ), was jailed in December for allegedly violating the terms of the pardon that led to her release along with Berhanu and others.

The government granted permission for 250 opposition members to march through Addis last week to demand her release in the first political protests since the violence in 2005. Many of the marchers were former political allies of Berhanu.

Opposition parties routinely accuse the government of harassment and say their candidates were intimidated during local elections in April of last year.

The government denies it.

Ethiopia will hold parliamentary elections in 2010. Analysts say the government of Prime Minister Meles Zanawi is likely to win the poll as the opposition has been weakened since the 2005 election.

Ermias said the 35 accused were likely to appear in court next week.





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