Saturday, March 27, 2010

Ethiopia politicians fear for health of imprisoned opposition leader

News from Addis Ababa that prison authorities had blocked opposition politicians from visiting their leader, Birtukan Mideksa, raises the possibility that Ethiopia's bumpy 19-year history as a republic could be over. Birtukan, leader of the opposition Unity for Democracy and Justice party, has been in prison continuously since 2008, when she was rearrested after she renounced an apparently coerced confession to charges stemming from an outbreak of violence following the disputed elections of 2005. Birtukan and other leaders were sentenced to life in prison. On Saturday, eight fellow opposition politicians were turned away after they requested to visit Birtukan in Kaliti prison, in the wake of a U.S. State Department report that her mental health was deteriorating, according to the Reuters international news service. Kaliti prison is just outside Addis Ababa, the capital. "We are here today because we are worried about her health and we want to see for ourselves what her condition is," UDJ official Seye Abraha told Reuters outside the prison. "Only her mother and her daughter have been given access to her. They bar friends, they bar party colleagues, no lawyer, no independent doctors." U.S. officials called Birtukan a political prisoner in its human rights report for 2009, Reuters said. Ethiopian law only permits prison visits from friends and lawyers. Birtukan's party is considered the greatest threat to the continued rule of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi's Ethiopian Peoples' Revolutionary Democratic Front in parliamentary elections scheduled for next month, Reuters said.

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