Ethiopia says plotters sought to assassinate officials

May 1, 2009

ADDIS ABABA, May 1 (Reuters) – Ethiopia said on Friday a group led by an Ethiopian-American professor had planned to assassinate officials and blow up public utilities in a plot to topple the government.

Addis Ababa arrested 40 former and current army personnel and members of a disbanded opposition group last week from a “terror network” it said was formed by Berhanu Nega, an opposition leader now living in the United States.

“Several individuals were targeted for assassination,” Bereket Simon, head of information for Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s government, told reporters, without saying who were the intended targets.

“They were intending to pave the way for street actions to overthrow the government,” he said, adding that the group had planned to target telecommunications and power sectors.

Some 200 opposition supporters were killed and hundreds arrested following the disputed 2005 parliamentary election.

Berhanu, now residing in the U.S. state of Pennsylvania, was elected mayor of Addis Ababa in that poll, but was arrested when the opposition disputed the results. He and other opposition leaders were released in a 2007 pardon.

Meles was initially hailed as part of a new generation of African leaders, but rights groups have increasingly criticised the rebel-turned-leader for cracking down on opposition.

Even though Meles has held power since the early 1990s, the recent arrests show his government is still sensitive to the opposition in the run-up to next year’s parliamentary vote.

Sub-Saharan Africa’s second most populous country has been eyed by foreign investors in agriculture, horticulture and real estate although it has recently suffered from high inflation and a fall in foreign exchange inflows.