September 17, 2009 / 8:26 AM / 9 years ago

Ethiopia PM: ethnic violence claim is contemptible

* Meles says think-tank meddles in developing world

* Says opposition trying to discredit 2010 elections

By Barry Malone

ADDIS ABABA, Sept 17 (Reuters) - Ethiopia’s prime minister has denounced a think-tank report that warned his country could descend into ethnic violence ahead of its first national election since a 2005 poll triggered deadly street clashes.

In a study last week, the International Crisis Group (ICG) said there was a risk of conflict ahead of the ballot scheduled for May 2010 because of rising ethnic tensions and dissent.

Prime Minister Meles Zenawi rejected that.

"Some people have too many billions of dollars to spend and they feel that dictating how developing countries manage their affairs is their God-given right," he said late on Wednesday.

"We have only contempt for the ICG."

The Horn of Africa nation’s last elections four years ago were touted as its first truly democratic polls. But they ended in protests and bloodshed after the government declared victory and the opposition accused it of rigging the result.

Police and soldiers killed about 200 people who had taken to the streets to demonstrate. At the time, Meles accused the protesters of trying to topple his government.


Rights groups regularly accuse Ethiopia’s government of cracking down on political opponents. One party leader has been jailed and several former and serving military officers have been charged in recent months with plotting a coup.

In a news conference on Wednesday, Meles defended the country’s system of "ethnic federalism", under which major ethnic groups control the regions where they are the majority. He said it had saved the giant nation from splitting apart.

"The country was on the brink of total disintegration," the prime minister said. "Every analyst worth his salt was suggesting that Ethiopia will go the way of Yugoslavia or the Soviet Union. What we have now is a going-concern."

Meles has started talks with the opposition about a code of conduct for the next poll. But the main coalition of opposition parties said last week it had walked out of the discussions and that its potential candidates were being jailed and harassed.

"Those parties that apparently are concerned about harassment are not concerned enough to participate in the devising of a code of conduct that is designed to put an end to it, if it exists, or to prevent it if it doesn’t," Meles said.

"The intent of these individuals is to discredit the election process from day one, not to participate in it." (Editing by Daniel Wallis)

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