Ethiopia okays first public protest.

September 14th, 2006 Print Print Email Email

Others said that the move was a largely hollow gesture as dozens of opposition figures and journalists detained after the violence remain in jail pending the completion of their trial on charges of plotting to overthrow the government.

Ethiopia okays first public protest

AFP

September 14, 2006

ADDIS ABABA — Hundreds of truckers marched through the Ethiopian capital Thursday in the first government-authorized protest since demonstrations were banned after deadly post-election violence last year.

Under the watchful eyes of police, about 250 fuel tank drivers filed through Addis Ababa to Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s office, demanding changes to new transport rules that they say are discriminatory, officials and witnesses said.

“The demonstrators have received permission,” said Ethiopian Federal Police spokesman Demsach Hailu. “The government has authorized the demonstrations and they have the right to complain.”

The decision to allow the march was seen by many as a government attempt to improve its image after violence erupted during protests over disputed May 2005 elections, killing at least 84 people, many of whom were shot by police.

Although non-political in nature, the procession marked the end of an absolute ban on public demonstrations that had drawn criticism from human rights groups and international donors.

“The government wants this kind of demonstration to be held to show that it can handle a demonstration without any violence,” one local commentator said on condition of anonymity.

Others said that the move was a largely hollow gesture as dozens of opposition figures and journalists detained after the violence remain in jail pending the completion of their trial on charges of plotting to overthrow the government.

The march to Meles’ office was peaceful and there were no reports of any altercations between police and the protestors, although it was not immediately clear if the prime minister would respond to the demands.

The truckers, most of them small-scale or independent businessmen who drive fuel tankers, are seeking a reversal or changes to a July directive that overturned a ban on the import of such vehicles.

In addition to fears that they will be put out of business by an influx of fuel trucks, the drivers are complaining that the regulation allows only large firms to buy new tankers by setting a minimum number of 10 vehicles per purchase.

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