Ethiopia’s freed leader defiant
Ethiopia’s opposition leader has hit out at the government just hours after being pardoned and released from a life sentence in jail.
Hailu Shawel said he had signed a document admitting to organising violent election protests in 2005 and asking for clemency "under duress".
The government had come under strong international pressure to free Mr Hailu and 37 others to help reconciliation.
But Prime Minister Meles Zenawi warned that the pardons were conditional.
"The government expects them to stick to their promises," Mr Meles said, adding that those freed must respect the rule of law and government institutions.
Mr Hailu said he had not been tortured but had signed the apology because among those jailed were people with small children.
He also dismissed talk of reconciliation.
"We are slaves. I can’t see how we can reconcile if the guy in power can’t reconcile," Reuters news agency quotes him as saying.
He also repeated charges that the 2005 general election had been rigged.
The government denied charges of ballot-rigging and points out that it introduced multi-party elections to Ethiopia.
The 38 were taken from prison in three minibuses, while Mr Meles announced the pardon to journalists.
They included 30 Coalition for Unity and Democracy leaders such as Mr Hailu, the mayor-elect of the Addis Ababa Berhanu Nega and several other MPs and local councillors from the capital.
Mr Hailu had been found guilty of "armed rebellion".
Eight other were also freed after being convicted of links to the protests at alleged vote-rigging, in which some 193 people were killed – mostly demonstrators.
Five others were convicted in absentia and sentenced to life in prison.
But anti-poverty campaigners Daniel Bekele and Netsanet Demissie remain in detention after refusing to sign the government’s document.
Mr Meles said the right to vote and contest elections would be restored to those pardoned.
But he said the MPs had boycotted parliament for two years and so may be unable to reclaim their seats.
Mr Meles denied that he was succumbing to US pressure to issue the pardons.
"The Ethiopian government isn’t willing and is unable to be run like a banana republic from Capitol Hill. Some individuals appear to be entertaining such illusions," he said.
He also said that some of the international pressure on his government had been "shameful".
The prime minister said the pardons showed the government had "no sense of revenge", and that the "sorry saga" was now "fully behind us".
The head of the European Union 2005 election observers in Ethiopia had condemned the life sentences as "farcical" and "inhumane".
After prosecutors called for the death penalty, the US urged the government to "promote reconciliation" in the final sentence.
The government always said it could not interfere in the case until the legal process had finished.
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FROM OTHER NEWS SITES
New York Times Ethiopian Prisoners in Vote Protest Case Are Pardoned and Released – 1 hr ago
MSNBC Members of Ethiopia opposition party leave jail – 3 hrs ago
Guardian Unlimited Ethiopia pardons 38 jailed over political protest – 3 hrs ago
Washington Post* Ethiopia Releases 38 Opposition Leaders – 8 hrs ago
CNN Ethiopia frees 38 opposition members – 8 hrs ago
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