ADDIS ABABA, 7 May 2005 — Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi warned that a victory for the opposition in May 15 elections could lead to Rwanda-style bloodshed, accusing his opponents of trying to foment ethnic hatred.
Meles’ ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) is widely favored to win a third consecutive five-year term at the helm of Africa’s top coffee producer, but the opposition is mounting its strongest challenge yet.
Meles said opposition parties were promoting divisive ideologies similar to those of the ethnic Hutu Interahamwe militias who massacred hundreds of thousands of minority Tutsis and Hutu moderates during Rwanda’s 1994 genocide.
“I call on the people of Ethiopia to punish opposition parties who are promoting an ideology of hatred and divisiveness by denying them their votes at election on May 15,” he told an interviewer during a four-hour question and answer session aired by state television late on Thursday.
“Their policies are geared toward creating hatred and rifts between ethnic groups similar to the policies of the Interahamwe when Hutu militia massacred Tutsis in Rwanda,” he said. “It is a dangerous policy that leads the nation to violence and bloodshed.”
Opposition parties are campaigning to change the constitution to remove an article that grants the right for any of the nine ethnically based federal states that make up Ethiopia to secede, saying it undermines unity.
Meles says his movement saved the country from disintegration when it introduced the provision after ousting Marxist dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam in 1991, warning that removing the right to secession would enflame ethnic tensions among Ethiopia’s dozens of tribes and linguistic groups.
Meles has proved a key US ally in the Horn of Africa, being one of only a handful of African leaders to voice support for the US-led invasion of Iraq.