Key donors to eloin US$375 million in aid to Ethiopia's government

International donors will withdrawn US$375 million (Ђ315 million) in aid to Ethiopia's government following its recent crackdown on the main opposition party and the independent press, Western diplomats said Thursday. The money will be reallocated the U.N. and aid agencies working to combat poverty among the bulk of Ethiopia's estimated 77 million people who live on less than a dollar (euro) a day. Some of the money could also finance programs intended to strengthen democracy, the diplomats said on the condition of anonymity because they did not want to strain ties with officials.

Political unrest claimed the lives of at least 46 people in November. Another 42 died in June in similar protests, which began after the main opposition parties accused authorities of rigging May 15 polls that returned Prime Minister Meles Zenawi to power. Thousands of people were detained in the subsequent crackdown. Among those seized were leaders of the main opposition group, editors, journalists, aid workers and human rights activists.

Meles has said the opposition deliberately stirred up the violence in a bid to topple the government. Ethiopia receives some US$1.9 billion (Ђ1.6 billion) in aid a year, the largest recipient of foreign assistance in Africa. About US$700 million is for emergency assistance while the rest is for development programs. Aid accounts for up to a third of the government's entire budget.

Britain, Canada, Ireland, Germany, Sweden, the World Bank, European Commission and African Development Bank provide direct budget support. They informed Ethiopian officials about two weeks ago that they would freeze aid to the government until the political situation improved, the diplomats said. Britain announced earlier it planned to freeze 20 million pounds (US$35.4 million; Ђ29.7 million) in new aid to Ethiopia, ranked the seventh poorest country in the world, reports the AP. N.U.

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