Local Ethiopians protest leader’s visit to G20

[Watch Video] 25 June 2010 – By Liz Monteiro, Record staff – KITCHENER – Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi is a repressive dictator who shouldn’t be allowed to visit Canada and participate in the G20 summit this weekend, says an Ethiopian-born Kitchener man.

Semou Zinabou and about 60 local Ethiopians are taking their disdain to the streets and participating in a protest against Zenawi at Queen’s Park in Toronto on Saturday.

“This man has a long record of human rights abuses,’’ said Zinabou. “This is an undemocratic government where people have no freedom, and university professors and journalists are jailed.’’

Having Zenawi attend the G20 is sending a wrong message to Canadians, said Zinabou.

Zenawi, along with Malawi President Bingu Wa Mutharika, who is chair of the African Union, have been invited to attend the two-day summit of finance ministers and bank governors from 19 leading countries and the European Union.

In addition, to protesters from Waterloo Region, the organized rally expects groups from Montreal, Ottawa, Boston and Washington, D.C. to attend the march.

Zinabou, a member of an advocacy group called Unity for Human Rights and Democracy, said the Canadian government, like many of the G8 countries, gives financial aid to Ethiopia.

He said 34 per cent of the country’s budget is being provided by donor countries like Canada. In 2009, Canada provided $138 million in aid to Ethiopia.

But he’s concerned that the money doesn’t go to the local people, but rather lining the coffers of government leaders.

“It’s our tax money and we are giving it to a dictator,’’ said Zinabou, 54, who left Ethiopia in 1980.

He was part of the student movement that the government of the day quashed. He then left his homeland as a political refugee and settled in Germany.

He lived there for nearly 20 years, getting married and having two children. In 2002, Zinabou and his family moved to Canada because they wanted to live in a multicultural country.

International organizations such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have said that the Zenawi government has systematically tried to destroy ethnic minorities in Ethiopia and continues to abuse human rights and international law.

Zenawi seized power in an armed takeover in 1991 and since then thousands of Ethiopians have fled the country.

In 2005, during the country’s elections when opposition parties made a strong showing, the government cracked down on protesters and 200 people were shot dead in the streets of the capital city of Addis Ababa.

Opposition leader Birtukan Mideksa was imprisoned and remains in jail

Observers from the European Union who oversaw the recent elections in May said the Ethiopian government pressured, intimidated and threatened voters.

Government officials and militia members went from house to house to warn Ethiopians to vote for the ruling party or face reprisals such as losing their homes or jobs, Human Rights Watch said.

Zinabou said he’s concerned that the ethnic unrest in his homeland could lead people to take up arms.

“If people take up arms, it’s the worst thing that could happen,’’ said Zinabou, who’s visited Ethiopia once in 1998 since leaving 30 years ago.

“It (war) is a real possibility because this government is not willing to compromise on anything except preserving its power,’’ he said.

lmonteiro@therecord.com

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