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Ethiopian Opposition Says Campaign Has Become War

May 7 (Bloomberg) -- Ethiopia’s ruling party has increased harassment of opposition supporters before a May 23 election in the Horn of Africa country, opposition coalition leader Merara Gudina said.

Activists loyal to Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front have thrown stones at his car, breaking its windows and puncturing its tires over various occasions while campaigning in the Oromiya region in the past two weeks, said Merara, who is a parliamentary candidate.

“It looks like sort of a war, not an election,” Merara said in a phone interview from the capital, Addis Ababa, today.

Public meetings for Medrek, an alliance of opposition parties, are often blocked by local officials in Oromiya, Merara said. Medrek leaders have been barred from hotels and from buying fuel in some areas of the region, he said. The ruling alliance is defending a majority of 400 seats in the 537-seat parliament.

A video camera was stolen that had been used to document what activists described as abuses, Merara said.

Merara is making a “totally baseless allegation,” said Shimeles Kemal, a spokesman for the government. “So far he has never been encountered with a single harassment on the part of the residents.”

Shimeles said the opposition candidate’s car had not been damaged and that police in the region had seized the camera because the opposition leader had a dispute with the cameraman over pay.

Two Medrek activists have been killed since March. The government has denied the two deaths were connected to the campaign.

Violence

The opposition is planning to use violence to topple the government, Tedros Hagos, head of the political bureau of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front which rules the country in a coalition with Meles’ party, said on April 28.

Security forces loyal to Meles killed 193 demonstrators in the aftermath of the country’s disputed 2005 poll. Opposition leader Birtukan Mideksa is in jail on a life sentence for treason given after the 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 at asguazzin@bloomberg.net.

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