July 9, 2007 / 9:30 AM / 12 years ago

Ethiopia prosecutors seek death in opposition case

ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - Ethiopian prosecutors demanded the death penalty on Monday for 38 opposition officials convicted of trying to overthrow the government, treason and inciting violence.

“Since they have been found guilty on all counts, they should be punished with the highest penalty,” prosecutor Abraham Tetemke told the court, which adjourned for a week to consider the demand.

“The accused conspired to overthrow the government. In the process they have created havoc, destroying state and private property. They are also responsible for the deaths of security forces and because of this we request the death penalty.”

Judge Adil Ahmed later ordered the accused to present whatever mitigating evidence they might have to the court’s registrar by July 11. The trial will resume on July 16.

The courtroom was packed with relatives of the accused, who sobbed and wailed as they heard the prosecutors’ demand.

The United States, which counts Ethiopia as an ally in its war on terrorism, said last month it was very concerned about the court ruling and was watching the situation closely.

The opposition officials were convicted last month of charges relating to violent protests over 2005 elections which the opposition says were rigged.

Nearly 200 people were killed in clashes between protesters and security forces over the vote.

Prime Minister Meles Zenawi has said he regretted the post-poll violence, but blamed it on opportunistic rioters and an opposition conspiracy to topple him by force.

Last month, he condemned calls by Western diplomats for the 38 to be released as “shameful and wrong”.

The crackdown tarnished Meles’ democratic credentials and prompted donors, including Britain and the European Union, to halt direct budgetary aid to sub-Saharan Africa’s second most populous nation of 81 million people.

The prosecution also called for the banning of three independent publishing houses linked to the accused and for their owners to be fined about $55,000 (27,300 pounds) each.

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