[ Ethiopia ]

By Tsegaye Tadesse
ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (Reuters) - Some 100,000 Ethiopians took to the streets of their capital Sunday to protest the way their government plans to commemorate the emperor who defeated Italian colonialists a century ago.

The protesters, led by opposition groups, say a government committee's plan to mark the centenary next month of the battle of Adwa belittles the memory of Emperor Menelik II, who led the Ethiopians to victory over Italian troops.

The plans are to stage many of the events in the remote town of Adwa itself, but the protesters argue that the celebrations should center only in the capital, so that all Ethiopians can participate.

"The Adwa Victory and Menelik II cannot be separated,'' Bitwoded Zwede, the 84-year-old president of one organization, Ethiopiawinet (We are Ethiopians), told the cheering crowd. ``It was his illustrious leadership and patriotism that resulted in the victory -- an epic event that made every black nation proud,'' he added.

On March 2, 1896, Ethiopian warriors under Menelik convincingly defeated Italian troops at Adwa to keep the country free from colonialism at a time when the rest of Africa was rapidly seized by powerful European armies.

In his 24-year reign, Menelik also founded Addis Ababa and doubled the size of Ethiopia's territory.

The high public concern over his honor was a far cry from the days of Ethiopia's Marxist regime, which deposed and imprisoned the last emperor Haile Selasse, killed many other members of the royal family, and stifled pro-monarchic feeling.

Teferi Wosen, information officer of the National Committee, denied there had been any "covert or overt'' attempt to denigrate the role played by Emperor Menelik. He said the committee had renovated the monument of Emperor Menelik in Addis Ababa to be formally unveiled on March 2. Teferi also denied charges that historical relics of the Battle of Adwa had been taken north.

He said a symposium and a major exhibition on the centenary were being held in the capital but for historical reasons a mock battle reenacting the 1896 victory would take place at Adwa.


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