ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - Ethiopia's human rights watchdog condemned the country's

Ethiopia Rights Group Condemns Police Brutality

Reuters: By Tsegaye Tadesse

04/21/2001 8:49 am ET


ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - Ethiopia's human rights watchdog condemned the country's security forces on Saturday for the way they dealt with this week's riots in which 41 people died.


The Ethiopian Human Right Council (EHRICO), an independent non-governmental organization, also blasted the government for not responding earlier to student demands for academic and political freedom, which sparked the riots.


"EHRICO believes that injuries sustained by students and other citizens as well as the destruction caused to private and public properties was due to the brutal actions by the security forces," EHRICO chairman Professor Andargatchew Tesfaye said.


Police opened fire on the rioters on Wednesday and later arrested more than 40 opposition party members, rounded up hundreds of students and even detained 70 newspaper vendors, according to opposition and media reports.


Residents said it was the worst violence to hit the capital since the ruling Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front overthrew the Dergue Marxist military junta of Mengistu Haile Mariam in 1991.


But EHRICO said the trouble could have been avoided if the government had responded to the students' initial demands for political and academic freedom and for the police to leave their campuses.


Andargatchew told a news conference the students were not to blame for the violence because they only left their campuses when the security forces entered them.


"EHRICO has ascertained that the students remained within their campuses all the time, chanting and shouting their demands in a peaceful and orderly manner," he said. "Had the students' simple demands been responded to promptly, the problem would not have gone out of the university campuses."


Andargatchew appealed to the government to bring to justice members of the security forces responsible for the bloodshed and asked international aid organizations to help the injured students.


There were no private papers on the streets of the capital on Saturday because of the arrest of the 70 newspaper vendors on suspicion of involvement in the riots, the Ethiopian Free Press Journalists Association said.


Its chairman, Kilfe Mulat, appealed to the government to release the vendors. The capital remained calm on Saturday, with life returning to normal, but the shells of burned-out cars and looted shops remained as reminders of the riots.


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