July 30, 2007 / 3:09 PM / 11 years ago

Opposition denies links in Ethiopia treason trial

ADDIS ABABA, July 30 (Reuters) - Ethiopian opposition officials told a court on Monday that two anti-poverty activists on trial for allegedly trying to overthrow the government were never members of their movement.

Daniel Bekele, 40, and Netsanet Demissie, 29, are the last two defendants out of 131 original charged in a long-running treason trial.

On Monday, Hailu Shawel, chairman of the opposition Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD) told the court neither men had been a part of his organisation.

"Charges that they were CUD members are totally false," he said. "If they had been members I would have known."

Shawel and other senior CUD officials were also charged in the same trial, which human rights groups and donors said was an attempt to dismantle the opposition after it made strong gains in 2005 elections.

They were all arrested following two bouts of violence after the disputed polls in which 199 civilians and police were killed, 800 people wounded and 30,000 arrested, according to a parliamentary inquiry.

They were freed on July 20 after the government published a letter it said CUD leaders had sent to Prime Minister Meles Zenawi admitting their guilt and repenting.

Defence lawyers say Bekele and Netsanet, who work for ActionAid Ethiopia and the Organisation for Social Justice in Ethiopia respectively, refused to sign and want to be acquitted.

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