Shops in Ethiopia's capital were largely closed yesterday morning and taxi drivers remained on strike following deadly riots and government warnings that any more civil unrest would be dealt with sternly.
Ethiopian security forces opened fire on stone-throwing protesters in the capital on Wednesday, leaving at least 22 people dead, the government said. EU observers said some opposition politicians have been placed under house arrest following the government's victory in last month's election.
A senior member of the opposition United Ethiopian Democratic Forces was being held in his office by police and the top two leaders of the opposition Coalition for Unity and Democracy were under police surveillance, officials said yesterday. Five office workers for the coalition were arrested, party members said, and the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission said two of their investigators were missing.
Taxi drivers and shop owners in the Ethiopian capital had gone on strike Wednesday, after two days of protests that mainly involved students. The government said police were allowed to use any means necessary to quell disturbances and that taxi and private bus drivers who did not work faced criminal charges.
Nevertheless, taxi and private bus drivers remained on strike for a second day, forcing those who did go to work to walk.
The government said 22 people were killed and 40 injured in Wednesday's violence. At one hospital in the capital, four of the 11 bodies seen by a reporter had gunshot wounds to the head.
The elections were seen as a test of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi's commitment to reform his sometimes authoritarian regime. The protests have broken out despite a ban on demonstrations imposed after the May 15 legislative election.
The US government has touted Meles as a progressive African leader and a key partner in the war on terror; US troops have even trained with Ethiopian troops that patrol the border with Somalia.
Meles has also played a role on British Prime Minister Tony Blair's Commission on Africa, which has made recommendations to G-8 countries on how to help this continent. But the violence threatens to destabilize Ethiopia, one of the poorest countries in the world, as well as raising doubts about the government's commitment to democracy and human rights.
Ethiopia's opposition won more than 80 percent of the vote in the capital last month, but the government claimed victory based on results in rural areas. Opposition parties say there was widespread fraud and intimidation, charges the ruling party denies. The head of the EU observer mission said Wednesday that some opposition politicians had been placed under house arrest.
"The mission has conveyed to the government its condemnation of the home arrests and other harassment and threatening measures imposed on the opposition," said Ana Gomes.
The shooting Wednesday began after the army's special forces arrived at the central business district where protesters were throwing stones. One wounded man lying on a hospital trolley after emergency treatment said police shot at peaceful protesters.
"The police were running at the crowd, firing shots. I got shot in my leg," said the 22-year-old day laborer who identified himself by one name, Getu. "I was just trying to get home to avoid the trouble."
Gomes, who visited one of the hospitals, said that while there was some looting, "many of the injured, mostly by gunshot wounds and including women and children, claim they were shot at random by security forces while waiting for public transportation." She called for the prosecution of anyone found to have used excessive force. The minister of information, who is also the ruling party spokesman, said the opposition was behind the protests.