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What is the truth behind Ethiopia’s “coup” plot?

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A plot is defined as “a plan made in secret”, but even by the usual shadowy nature of such matters around Africa, the recent conspiracy to overthrow the Ethiopian government has been hard to see clearly.

The story broke two weeks ago when the government of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said 40 men had been arrested for planning a coup after police found guns, bombs and “written strategies” at their homes. But a few days later the government communication office was asking journalists not to use the word coup anymore. The “desperados”, they said, had planned to “overthrow” the government by using assassinations and bombings to create enough chaos to get supporters on the streets to topple the government.

The sensitivity surrounding the language and the details of what was actually going on highlight the caution that still exists in sub-Saharan Africa’s second most populous country after a disputed 2005 election ended with police and soldiers killing about 200 opposition street protesters who were marching on government buildings.

Understandably, many Ethiopians are sceptical that people would take to the streets again. And others question whether the will is still there to march against a government that most analysts consider the most effective the desperately poor nation Horn of Africa has ever had.

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