Jailed opposition leader brings rival parties together

Birtukan mideksaETHIOMEDIA — ADDIS ABABA – Two opposition groups who have been eyeing each other as sworn adversaries spent the evening of May 28 at a candle-light vigil together, and they say the unifying force is jailed opposition leader Birtukan Mideksa.

Unity for Democracy and Justice (UDJ) leaders and supporters were seated for a monthly candle light vigil when they found themselves welcoming suprise visitors: a delegation from their rival group headed by Hailu Shawel, former leader of the Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD).

Now president of All Ethiopia People’s Organization (AEUP), Engineer Hailu Shawel has not been on speaking terms with UDJ leaders ever since CUD’s disintegration following the leaders’ release from prison in 2007.

“We’ve been going on in our own seprate ways, but again tonight, the unifying force of love and peace Birtukan Mideksa has brought us together,” a joyous Engineer Gizachew Shiferaw, vice president of UDJ, told his guests to a deafening applause.

AEUP and UDJ evolved after the collapse of CUD-Kinijit but the split was a morally-crushing phenomenon for the Ethiopian people while it was a windfall Meles Zenawi’s party, which is very much reviled throughout the country.

“We need to brush aside all the hearsay and work together,” Engineer Hailu Shawel said. “We need to weed out the political riff-raff.”

On the occasion, Professor Mesfin Woldemariam, also a UDJ executive, presented a paper on the issue of “Non violence struggle in Ethiopia.” The 78-year-old noted human rights activist said the Meles Zenawi regime dreads a peaceful form of struggle as it relies on the culture of gun-totting and violence.”

“The regime has been trying to shut down all avenues of peaceful struggle but the Ethiopian people carry their hopes high and have remained loyal to their cause,” Professor Mesfin said.


In the meantime, free-text messaging service, banned since opposition successes at the stolen 2005 elections, was allowed for only 24 hours because May 28 is a day Meles Zenawi’s group came to power way back in 1991.

Reminiscent of the days in the run-up to the May 2005 elections, UDJ supporters made a swift use of the rare opportunity, and spread news about the special programs that were due for the evening. The turnout for the Birtukan Mideksa candle-light vigil was impressive that the hall was packed. And the appearance of Engineer Hailu at Birtukan’s party headquarters was like icing on the cake, according to Awde newsletter.

Ethiopia remains an impoverished, enemy-held territory denied the benefits of technology services as basic as mobile phones. Mobile phone distribution in South Africa, for instance, stands at 87%; but the figure for Ethiopia is a shocking 1.45%, according to ITU.


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