Each day hundreds of women gather at the offices of the International Committee of the Red Cross offices in the Ethiopian capital, some holding photos or identification cards of husbands and sons. An unknown number of Ethiopians, most of them men, were arrested during political violence two weeks ago, in which police clashed with demonstrators and at least 46 people died. Between Friday and Saturday police released 4,138 people, but many were believed still in custody.
The violence began Nov. 1 amid protests over a disputed May 15 election.
Zinash Kebede, pain clearly etched into her face, was searching for her younger brother, seized by police in a late night raid in the first days of the violence and not heard from him since.
Across the city armed police have made late night raids on houses in a massive crackdown. Young men, some barefoot, being marched through the city to police stations became a familiar sight.
"I have no idea where he is or what condition he is in," the 30-year-old Zinash said, tears running down her cheeks. "He has just disappeared."
Women, wrapped in traditional white cloaks to keep out the morning chill, nod to show their circumstances are similar.
Many have already searched the hospital morgues. Often the Red Cross visit proves fruitless. Inundated each day by hundreds of people, the Red Cross has to turn some away, telling them to return later.
The Red Cross is one of the few organization in Ethiopia allowed prison visits. Families hope by handing over names they may be able to track down relatives.
Information Minister Berhan Hailu says the mass arrests were justified to restore order to the capital. Calm has returned, although the heavily armed police and troops may have had more to do with that than the arrests, the AP reports.
"More people will be released but the police have to screen them first," Berhan told The Associated Press. "The police are trying their best to release people but obviously this takes time."
Ethiopia is seen by the West as a key ally in the Horn of Africa, an area blighted by famine and war that U.S. officials believe is a haven for terrorists.
But the violence and arrests have alarmed the international donors who support the country.
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