Ethiopian opposition leader instigates supporters to protest government

The leader of Ethiopia's largest opposition coalition urged supporters Friday to prepare for peaceful demonstrations, strikes and stay-at-homes to protest the killing of six members and detention of hundreds of others. Hailu Shawel said the protests should begin after the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which ends in the first week of November.

Authorities have arrested 837 members of the Coalition for Unity and Democracy and have broken into and closed 25 branch offices in the past two months, he said.

The call for protests came days after Prime Minister Meles Zenawi accused the opposition leader of treason. He said that the coalition had committed "serious" crimes in the run up to May 15 elections the opposition accuses Meles' party of stealing. Security forces killed scores protesting the conduct of the vote in demonstrations days after the balloting.

A ban on demonstrations imposed at the time of the elections was lifted in July.

"We will only use legal (protest) measures allowed under the constitution," Hailu said. "We have never had arms. We do not have guns."

"Our struggle is to change the government using peaceful means allowed within the law," Hailu told journalists. "This is not treason."

But Information Minister Berhan Hailu accused the opposition of resorting to illegal measures to try to undermine the constitution.

Members of Hailu's party have refused to take up their 109 seats in the 547-seat lower house of parliament to protest rules passed by the previous house that were intended to limit their powers and intimidate them. The new rules stipulate that only parties with 51 percent of parliamentary seats can propose motions and present an agenda.

Previously, only 20 lawmakers needed to support a motion before it was tabled in parliament, according to the AP.

"When we see all this it is clear that the ruling party is transgressing the constitution with impunity," Hailu said. "We were hoping the situation would improve, but it is getting worse each day."