MEDREK says Election candidate murdered

March 2, 2010

ADDIS ABABA, March 2 (Reuters) – Six men stabbed to death an Ethiopian opposition election candidate on Tuesday and the murder may have been provoked by his anti-government campaign, the main opposition coalition said.

The eight-party coalition, Medrek, said another of its candidates was beaten on Monday by armed men believed by locals to be from the Ethiopian army.

“Our candidate Aregawi Gebre-Yohannes was attacked this morning by six people and he was stabbed to death,” former Ethiopian president Negaso Gidada, who joined the opposition after falling out with Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, said.

Aregawi was a parliamentary candidate for Medrek member party, Arena Tigray. He was arrested twice while campaigning, the opposition said.

Government spokesman Shimeles Kemal said both incidents were personal and a suspect had been arrested for Aregawi’s murder.

“He was killed in a personal row outside his constituency,” Shimeles said. “The beating was also a personal brawl. But Medrek are free to lodge their complaint with the electoral board for investigation.”

The Horn of Africa country’s election will be the first since a government victory in 2005 was disputed by the opposition. About 200 street protesters were killed by security forces and the main opposition leaders imprisoned.

Analysts say Medrek — or the Forum — is the main threat to the 19-year-old government of Meles, but his ruling Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) coalition is expected to win the May 23 poll.

The opposition says this is because they are harassed and jailed. The government says the opposition is trying to discredit a poll it has no chance of winning.

Both incidents happened in the northern Tigray province, the stronghold of Meles and his Tigrayan Peoples’ Liberation Front (TPLF), part of the ruling EPRDF.

The Tigryan ethnic group makes up 6 percent of the population but analysts say they dominate the political elite.

“There are attacks and harassment in Tigray because the Arena Tigray party is challenging the TPLF,” Negaso said. “Without the TPLF, there is no Meles.”

The government has agreed to an electoral code of conduct with three opposition parties — two of which are dismissed by opponents as EPRDF aligned. Medrek did not sign the code, saying issues such as electoral board reform were left out.

Arena Tigray leader, Gebru Asrat, said the party would ask police and the electoral board to establish whether the murder was political. “But I don’t expect any justice,” he said.

Meles was hailed as part of a new generation of democratic African leaders in the 1990s but rights groups have increasingly criticised him for cracking down on opposition in sub-Saharan Africa’s second most populous nation. (Editing by Janet Lawrence)