Eritreans demonstrate in Ethiopia against Asmara government

By Tesfa-Alem Tekle

April 22, 2011 (ADDIS ABABA) – Tens of thousands of exiled Eritreans in neighboring Ethiopia on Wednesday demonstrated, seeking an international pressure to end to the rule of President Issaias Afewerki, who has led the country since it won independence from Ethiopia in 1991.

Over one thousand refugees took to the streets in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, waving banners chanting anti-regime slogans, calling for democratic change in the Red Sea nation.

Demonstration organisers said thousands of Eritreans also took part in protests in five other refugee camps located near the Eritrean border.

Eritrean refugees committee chairman, Kibrom Sibhatu, said despite the regime’s increasingly repressive nature and its force for regional destabilisation, the international community has done little to stop it.

“We are the reflections to the oppressed people in Eritrea. We call on the international community to hear our voices and act swiftly to meet our demands” he told Sudan Tribune.

Approached by Sudan Tribune, a group of demonstrators said that they want to join an armed struggle against Issayas government.

“Although we are political refugees and have never belonged to any political organisation it is time we join resistance groups based in Ethiopia.”

“We have come to realise that armed struggle is the only option to depose the current rule and bring a democratic change” one among the group, who fled to Ethiopia little over two years ago. Protestors interviewed requested to retain anonymity for security reasons.

Ethiopia hosts some 60,000 Eritrean refugees who fled their homeland, which is reported to be rife with mass arrests, killings, forcible conscription and the marginalisation of the Afar and Kunama communities.

The latest protests follow shortly after Addis Ababa threatened it would take “all measures necessary” against Asmara, accusing it of continuing “terrorist acts” including a foiled plot to carry out bomb attacks during an African Union summit in February.

Meanwhile, Ethiopian Foreign Affairs Minister Hailemariam Desalegn on Thursday reaffirmed his country would increase its support to resistance groups fighting to topple Asmara regime.

However he noted that Ethiopia won’t engage in a direct invasion unless the aggression came from Eritrea.

“This regime change is not by invading Eritrea, but by supporting the Eritrean people and groups which want to dismantle the regime. We are fully engaged in doing so,” Hailemariam said.

Authorities in Asmara have not yet responded to Ethiopia’s latest shift in policy.

The two neighbours have often traded harsh rhetoric since they fought a 1998-2000 full-scale border war which claimed the lives of over 70,000 people. Formerly a province of Ethiopia, Eritrean became independent in 1993 after 30 years of war.

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