Police forcefully disband protesters today in the vicinity of an opposition party head office in the capital.
The demonstration was organized at the at the office of Unity for Democracy and Justice (UDJ a.k.a Andinet) party, one of the major opposition parties.
Authorities announced on Friday that the planned rally lacks authorization since the organizers “failed to submit detailed information on the route of the rally, list of slogans to be displayed on the rally and other requisite information”.
However, the organizers insist the letter they submitted was detailed enough.
The organizers were in an apparent rush to hold the rally before the National Election Board (NEB) makes its decision on the fate of the UDJ.
The party is in legal limbo since last October, as NEB rejected the election of Belay Fekadu as President by a second-tier organ of the party. Though a Party Congress was held subsequently, in mid-December, to fix the matter, it didn’t satisfy NEB.
The matter took another turn on the first weekend of the new year.
Following NEB’s issuance of one week ultimatum for the party; a splinter group held a party Congress and elected Tigistu Awelu as its leader, at the very day another one held at the Party’s head office was reaffirming the election of Belay Fekadu.
Belay Fekadu’s presidency enjoys the backing of the lone opposition MP Girma Seifu and several publicly known members.
The other group lacks such high-profile members, which bestows legitimacy in the highly personalized Ethiopian party politics. Though it is perceived that Gizachew Shiferaw and Zeleke Redi- who served as UDJ’s President and deputy until October, to either back or hold a neutrality that favors Tigistu Awelu’s faction.
NEB rejected both faction’s January 11 assemblies demanding both factions hold a Congress jointly in two weeks’ time. The deadline is on Monday. And, Tigistu Awelu’s faction convened its own Congress yesterday.
HornAffairs learnt that NEB promised to send a representative to the gathering and skipped it without explanations.
Today’s demonstrators see the entire saga is orchestrated by the ruling party. They insist NBE’s procedural challenges deviated from the law and the practice.
A statement issued yesterday at UDJ’s head office alleged that the on-going dispute is a smokescreen and part of ruling party, EPRDF, strategy to disgrace and dismantle the party. It further claimed that Tigistu Awelu’s faction consists EPRDF’s moles recruited and planted in the party as part of that plan.
Belay Fekadu’sfaction has so far failed to established a link between EPRDF and Tigistu Awelu’s faction. While the latter brandish their previous records to prove their credential as genuine opposition. It has been observed, however, the state TV and the quasi-official Fana radio have been unusually generous in allotting air time to cover the matter.
The about hundred protestors appear to have been below expectations of many.
Wary of stimulating the demonstration, NEB skipped the congregation of Tigistu Awelu’s faction yesterday, while the state media has been cautious of its activities in the past two or three days.
Likewise diplomats lobbied both sides to avert a major crisis – ahead of the next week’s African Union summit which will also draw high-profile western officials – and believe to have succeeded in averting arrests, HornAffairs learnt.
Belay Fekadu’s faction – which was similarly uncertain about turnouts and police reaction – prepared a stand-by unofficial group to assume leadership if a mass arrest takes place. As that was the case two months ago, when another party attempted to hold an unauthorized rally.
Nonetheless, a dozen or more of today’s demonstrators were reportedly beaten, while a handful were injured. A photo being circulated on social media indicates Sileshi Hagos fiancé of the imprisoned journalist Reeyot Alemu might have suffered a serious injury on his hand.