Diplomats, human rights groups and witnesses say the Ethiopian government is methodically stifling dissent in the prelude to this weekend's national elections, denying food aid to opposition supporters, jailing political opponents and possibly killing a few activists, part of a broader pattern of repression in several of America's closest allies in Africa, especially during election time.

Ethiopia is one of the poorest and most aid-dependent countries in the world, and the American government and the World Bank, two of its biggest donors, are investigating potential leaks in the aid system and allegations that the government is manipulating food aid to reward political allies and literally starve out political opposition.

“We have seen these reports, and we are looking into them, and we would object to any politicization of our humanitarian assistance,” said Johnnie Carson, the Assistant Ssecretary of State for African affairs. The allegations, which the Ethiopian government strongly denies, seem to be part of an increasingly iron-fisted strategy to ensure that the governing party holds on to power while preventing the widespread protests that erupted after the last major elections in 2005.

Back then, opposition groups said they had won far more seats than the government acknowledged, setting off demonstrations that were violently suppressed. Security forces arrested tens of thousands and killed scores of unarmed protesters.

According to human rights groups, recent State Department reports and witnesses, the Ethiopian government has recently imprisoned opposition leaders on false charges, passed laws to stymie intellectual and human rights groups and silenced independent media. Ethiopia gets roughly a billion dollars a year in aid from American taxpayers; at the same time, the government is jamming radio broadcasts from the American-financed Voice of America, one of the few major independent media outlets left in the country. — New York Times News Service

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