Ethiopia 'tightens control'

NAIROBI - Ethiopia's government has tightened media control, stifled opposition and civil society in recent years, and ramped up restrictions ahead of May elections, a rights group said yesterday.

NAIROBI - Ethiopia's government has tightened media control, stifled opposition and civil society in recent years, and ramped up restrictions ahead of May elections, a rights group said yesterday.

Since the violent aftermath of the 2005 elections the regime has arrested and detained several opposition members and threatened and harassed opponents, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a report.

"Ethiopia's citizens are unable to speak freely, organise political activities and challenge their government's policies ... without fear of reprisals," said the report.

The New York-based watchdog said the measures had been undertaken to avoid a repeat of the 2005 post-poll violence sparked by opposition claims of irregularities, in which some 200 people were killed.

"Expressing dissent is very dangerous in Ethiopia," said Georgette Gagnon, the HRW Africa director.

"The ruling party and the state are becoming one and the government is using the full weight of its power to eliminate opposition and intimidate people into silence."

Several activists and journalists have fled the country in recent months due to government repression, HRW said.

Ethiopian government spokesman Bereket Simon called the accusations "ridiculous".

Opposition groups have accused the ruling party of repeated harassment in the run-up to the May 23 polls. - Sapa-AFP

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