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IdentifierCreatedClassificationOrigin
06ADDISABABA38 2006-01-05 13:48:00 UNCLASSIFIED Embassy Addis Ababa
Cable title:  

ETHIOPIA: WIDESPREAD STUDENT PROTESTS DRAW HARSH

Tags:   PGOV PHUM KDEM KJUS ET 
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1. (U) Summary. Last week was marked by a series of small,
but widespread student disturbances throughout Ethiopia, but
predominantly in Addis Ababa and Oromiya. While the majority
of student demonstrators called peacefully for the release of
detained CUD leaders and the resignation of Prime Minister
Meles Zenawi, some students engaged in rockthrowing and
vandalized government property. The GOE responded by sending
out commando units to augment or even replace police crowd
control units. According to media reports, protesting
students were beaten, and in a few cases killed. The
government temporarily closed several high schools and
universities in response to the protests. The GOE likely
sees these incidents as the leading edge of a new wave of
unrest and is trying to deal with it decisively.
U.S.-provided Humvees and other military vehicles patrolled
cities to dissuade protests, however, student protests are
continuing. End Summary.



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SMALL PROTESTS SPREAD


--------------------------





2. (U) Private media reported that student protests,
beginning on December 21, spread over the week to several
high schools in Addis Ababa. Embassy RSO investigators
describe the protests as small in nature, usually 10-25
students and largely peaceful, but noted that some of the
non-peaceful protesters vandalized government property.
Ethiomedia reported that students attacked police vehicles,
government trucks and buses, calling for the immediate
release of Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD) leaders
(reftel) and the end of the Meles Zenawi regime. The
majority of protests occurred in and around high schools, but
disturbances were reported at some elementary schools and
universities. (Note: Students attending Ethiopian high
schools can range from 14 to 21 years of age. End Note.)



3. (U) According to a variety of media reports, over 30 high
schools in Addis Ababa alone have seen student protests since
December 21. Embassy RSO investigators noted a decrease in
early January in the number of protests being reported, but
expected an upsurge January 4, coinciding with the resumption
of pre-trial proceedings for detained opposition members.



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GOVERNMENT REACTS FORCEFULLY


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4. (U) Government reaction to the protests was swift and
forceful. Local police responded initially to the majority
of protests, but as their resources stretched thin, Federal
police and elite commando units in U.S.-provided Humvees were
increasingly called in. Some of the protests disbanded
peacefully, but police resorted to beating students brutally
in many of the disturbances, according to a variety of media
reports.



5. (U) Police have detained hundreds of students in
connection with the protests. Independent media outlets and
Voice of America (VOA) reported December 27 that Ethiopian
security forces had rounded up an unknown number of high
school students in Addis Ababa and took them to an
undisclosed location. Reporting two days later, VOA
announced that additional students had been arrested.



6. (U) While independent, private and international media
outlets continued to report on the recent upsurge in student
protests, state-run media outlets published little about the
demonstrations. Information Minister Berhan Hailu merely
stated that there were "minor problems" in the capital's
schools.



--------------------------



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OTHER REGIONS NOT IMMUNE TO GROWING STUDENT UNREST


--------------------------



--------------------------





7. (U) Student protests have not been limited to the capital
city; private news sources have reported regional
disturbances. Private newspaper Dagim Weekly reported that
two students were killed in West Oromiya following a student
demonstration asking the government to release Oromo
prisoners. Tomar, another private weekly, reported that
following student protests in Oromiya, the government
arrested and held several people at an unknown location.

ADDIS ABAB 00000038 002 OF 002


Ethiopian Review reported December 26 that hundreds of people
from West Oromiya were rounded up by special forces and taken
to Senkele Police Training Center after students held
protests demanding the removal of Zenawi. According to VOA,
four secondary school students were killed in Oromiya
following demands by students for greater protection of human
rights. VOA noted that Oromo regional police officials have
admitted that over 300 people have been arrested in
connection with the disturbances.



8. (U) In Gondar, Ethiopian Review reported December 22 that
in response to earlier protests police entered multiple
schools in Gondar waiting for the students to arrive. As
students gathered within the school compound, police sealed
off exits and began beating them. An unknown number of
deaths and injuries have been reported but not confirmed.
The sub-regional administrator told Ambassador Huddleston,
who visited Gondar shortly after the incident, that only two
students had been injured. Ethiomedia reported January 2
that a student protest against the presence of police within
school grounds resulted in many injured children and
approximately 75 in police custody. The protests prompted
regional authorities to close all schools in Gondar for one
week.



--------------------------


COMMENT


--------------------------





9. (SBU) The government's heavy-handed tactics have probably
aggravated what began as largely peaceful local student
demonstrations. While these demonstrations are not
comparable in scale of those in early November, they do
signal both continuing popular anger over the detention of
CUD leaders and a willingness (at least amongst the youth) to
confront authorities. The GOE's tough response to student
protesters seems to indicate that it sees the disturbances as
the leading edge of another wave of unrest that it must
address now before it spreads.



10. (SBU) We have protested through dipnote to the Foreign
Ministry and conveyed our concerns in person to Director
General of America and Europe Division Grum Abay, the Chief
of the Army General Staff Lieutenant General Samoro Yones and
National Security Advisor Mulugeta Alemseged about the use of
Humvees for police-type actions. Defense Attach Colonel
Rick Orth has argued to curtail Humvee purchases in the
pipeline given General Samora's refusal to remove them from
the streets of Addis Ababa. The Ambassador has also told the
international media of our dissatisfaction.
HUDDLESTON