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Ethiopian Opposition Claims Activist Killed While Campaigning

April 22 (Bloomberg) -- An Ethiopian opposition activist was beaten to death by pro-government militia in the western part of the country after he refused to stop campaigning for his party before May 23 elections, an opposition leader said.

Beyanza Deba was killed while campaigning for the Oromo Federalist Congress, part of Ethiopia’s Medrek opposition alliance, near the western town of Ambo when four members of a militia aligned with Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s ruling party beat him on April 7, said Merara Gudina, a member of parliament and chairman of the OFC. He died of his injuries on April 16 after being hospitalized in the capital, Addis Ababa.

“He died campaigning,” Merara said in a phone interview today from Harar in eastern Ethiopia. “This is the militia of the government trying to block rural campaigning.”

Communications Minister Bereket Simon said the allegation was false and that the government could produce documents showing that Beyanza was in fact a member of the pro-Meles Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front.

Bereket also accused the opposition of fabricating human rights violations so as to discredit next month’s poll.

“He was sick and he died,” Bereket said in a phone interview today. The opposition is “smearing the campaign, using any person who is dead” for their own purposes, he said.

Stabbed

Last month, Aregawi Gebrey-Yohannes, a Medrek parliamentary candidate, was stabbed to death in the northern Ethiopian region of Tigray. A man was convicted and sentenced to 15 years in a domestic court for that killing. The government has said Aregawi’s homicide was non-political, though opposition leaders said it was part of a campaign of harassment and intimidation by Meles’s party.

“It’s widespread, it’s across Oromiya, it’s across other regions,” said Merara.

Earlier this month, Bekele Jirata, another Oromo opposition leader, was sentenced to 13 years in jail in absentia after being tried on charges of supporting the outlawed Oromo Liberation Front. Birtukan Mideksa, another Medrek leader, remains in jail under a life sentence after being tried for treason following Ethiopia’s 2005 vote. That year at least 193 demonstrators were killed by security forces loyal to Meles in the wake of the disputed election.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jason McLure in Addis Ababa via Johannesburg at pmrichardson@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Antony Sguazzin in Johannesburg at asguazzin@bloomberg.net.

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