Ethiopian leader met by protests in Norway

October 11, 2011 –

A chorus of critics demonstrated outside the Oslo hotel where Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi was attending an international energy conference this week. He brushed off the criticism, while Norwegian leaders say they took up some of it with him.

“Norwegian and other countries’ organizations think they have a right to involve themselves in African countries’ politics,” Meles Zenawi told newspaper Aftenposten. “At the same time, I, as an Ethiopian, have no right to involve myself in Norwegian affairs. We have never accepted this double standard.”

He said that Norway can gladly “help us” in economic issues, “and say what you think.” But he warned outsiders from meddling in Ethiopia’s political processes.

Norway has donated around NOK 1.4 billion in aid to Ethiopia over the past six years, and Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg has worked closely with Meles Zenawi on a UN-backed effort to raise funds for measures to halt climate change. That’s at least partly why Meles Zenawi was in Oslo this week, to take part in the latest conference involving energy and climate issues.

While he was welcomed by his Norwegian hosts, Aftenposten reported how demonstrators outside the Radisson Blu Hotel in downtown Oslo were chanting “shame, shame, shame.” Most of the demonstrators were Ethiopian-Norwegians who are not at all happy with Meles Zenawi’s rule back home.

“This is a man who imprisons journalists and opposition groups,” Adam Mulualem Zerikun, one of the organizers of the demonstration, told Aftenposten. He accused Meles Zenawi of gathering all political power in an ethnic group that makes up only a small percentage of the population, of prohibiting aid organizations and impartial observerser into southern portions of the country and of turning Ethiopia into a dictatorship.

Meles Zenawi was unmoved. “If they don’t agree with the government’s politics, it’s natural they protest,” he told Aftenposten. He also stressed that Ethiopia has never been a colony and that’s why aid organizations aren’t allowed to get involved in political activities, including promotion of human rights.

After 20 years of rule, he has won international acclaim for boosting Ethiopia’s economy, but he’s also attracted criticism for a lack of progress on human rights and democracy. Most recently his government reportedly has used an anti-terror law to imprison hundreds of journalists and political opponents, including two Swedish journalists. Meles Zenawi insisted they were messengers for a terrorist organization.

Stoltenberg said he took up the issue of the imprisoned Swedes with Meles Zenawi on Monday, along with reports of murder and abuse of civilians in Ogaden. Yet he and government minister Erik Solheim also hailed the Ethiopian leader for promoting stability and growth in Africa.

“We’re working with Ethiopia to fight poverty,” Stoltenberg said. “Trade and investment are closely tied to improvement of human rights.”

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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