ADDIS ABABA, May 1 (Reuters) - Ethiopia said on
Friday a group led by an Ethiopian-American professor had planned to
assassinate officials and blow up public utilities in a plot to topple
Addis Ababa arrested 40 former and current army
personnel and members of a disbanded opposition group last week from a
"terror network" it said was formed by Berhanu Nega, an opposition
leader now living in the United States.
were targeted for assassination," Bereket Simon, head of information
for Prime Minister Meles Zenawi's government, told reporters, without
saying who were the intended targets.
"They were intending to
pave the way for street actions to overthrow the government," he said,
adding that the group had planned to target telecommunications and
Some 200 opposition supporters were killed and hundreds arrested following the disputed 2005 parliamentary election.
Berhanu, now residing in the U.S. state of Pennsylvania, was elected
mayor of Addis Ababa in that poll, but was arrested when the opposition
disputed the results. He and other opposition leaders were released in
a 2007 pardon.
Meles was initially hailed as part of a new
generation of African leaders, but rights groups have increasingly
criticised the rebel-turned-leader for cracking down on opposition.
Even though Meles has held power since the early 1990s, the recent
arrests show his government is still sensitive to the opposition in the
run-up to next year's parliamentary vote.
second most populous country has been eyed by foreign investors in
agriculture, horticulture and real estate although it has recently
suffered from high inflation and a fall in foreign exchange inflows.
Berhanu's group called the accusations "baseless".
"No amount of scurrilous accusations, threats or blackmail by the
regime will deter us from pursuing the cause of democracy and freedom,"
it said on its Web site www.ginbot7.org last week.
Bereket said those arrested included a general.
The government may ask for Berhanu and others from the United States and Britain to be extradited, Bereket said.
"If a court of law adjudicates that they are criminal, then as with any criminal we would want their extradition," he said.
Bereket said the group had received money to buy weapons from Berhanu and other diaspora opposition members.
Berhanu's organisation "May 15th" is named after the date of the 2005
poll. He had made statements in the United States, where he teaches
economics at Bucknell University, saying it wants to violently
overthrow the government.
Opposition parties routinely accuse
the government of harassment and say their candidates were intimidated
during local elections in April of last year. The government denies it.
(Editing by Jack Kimball)