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Cablegate: Meskel: Crowds Celebrate a New Beginning for the Government

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DE RUEHDS #2944 2741133
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 011133Z OCT 07
FM AMEMBASSY ADDIS ABABA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 8008
INFO RUCNIAD/IGAD COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RHMFISS/CJTF HOA PRIORITY
RHMFIUU/HQ USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL PRIORITY

UNCLAS ADDIS ABABA 002944

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: SCUL PGOV ET
SUBJECT: Meskel: Crowds Celebrate a New Beginning for the Government
and the People

New Beginning
-------------

1. "Meskel", one of the most important Ethiopian Orthodox religious
festivals, was celebrated on September 28. It attracted over
500,000 people in and near Meskel Square in the heart of Addis
Ababa, with reports from the Ethiopian press that as many as one
million people throughout the city celebrated this important
holiday. This year's celebrations differed from the bleak events
of the past two years when crowds were small and the public was
upset with the Government over the continued detention of opposition
leaders.

2. This year's celebration comes after months of negotiations by
Ethiopia's Elders and the support of this Mission, which led to the
release of 71 opposition leaders and civil society persons this past
summer. It not only created political space for political dialogue
but also eased tensions and helped the public focus on the new
millennium of the Ethiopian calendar on September 17. Prime
Minister Meles delivered a non-political speech focusing on the dawn
of a new renaissance for Ethiopia and a new beginning which will
potentially bring prosperity, optimism and unity for the new
century. That speech, made on September 17, along with the release
of the detainees set the tone for the public display of thanksgiving
during the Meskel celebrations.

A Homily of Peace
-----------------

3. During the homily delivered by the Patriarch to the crowds
gathered in Meskel Square, his Holiness Abuna Paulos praised the
government -- which elicited applause from the crowds -- but his
message of a new beginning and a peaceful new millennium underscored
the theme for the celebrations. Recalling the significance of
Meskel as the finding of the true cross of Christ, the Patriarch
reminded the people of the holy work of St. Helen, who was the
mother of the first Christian Roman Emperor, Constantine. It was
St. Helen who went to Calvary in search of the cross of Christ. The
Patriarch stressed that the grace of God will bring new hopes for
peace in the new millennium. During a private dinner after the
Meskel celebrations, the Patriarch told the Ambassador he was truly
humbled by the outpouring of joy by the people of Addis Ababa.

4. Meskel also served as the delayed public celebration of the new
millennium. The September 17 Millennium activities for the general
public were cancelled due to poor planning and security concerns.
The public focused on the religious holiday of Meskel as their
welcoming of the new millennium. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church
organized a program of church chants and dances with displays of
traditional liturgical garments with the lighting of a huge bonfire
and fireworks. It was the most elaborate celebration organized by
the Church and, without exception, Ethiopians whom we spoke with
praised the Church for the moving and inspirational program.

Holy Fathers Gather in Addis Ababa
----------------------------------

5. Making this year's Meskel event special was the week long visit
and meetings of the holy fathers from various Christian sects. As
President of the World Council of Churches for 2007, the Patriarch
hosted the week-long program which included the presence of the
Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew the first, and church
leaders or representatives from the Archbishop of Canterbury, the
Vatican, and the Coptic Churches from Russia, Egypt, India, Syria,
Greece, Serbia, Romania and Eastern Europe. The Reverend Calvin
Butts from the Abyssinian Baptist Church in New York also led his
delegation of 160 parishioners to the Meskel event. Patriarch
Bartholomew the first also delivered a speech to the crowds at
Meskel Square calling on the international community to help
Ethiopia overcome poverty and realize a brighter and more prosperous
future.

Comment
-------

6. The Meskel celebration truly displayed an outpouring of public
joy and hope that the new millennium will continue the positive
trend at the end of the old millennium with the release of the
detainees. People here hope the political infighting among the
former detainees visiting the U.S. and the squabbles among diaspora
supporters in Canada and the U.S. will not detract from a political
dialogue on the future of Ethiopia. It is not clear when the former
detainees will return to Ethiopia, but when they do, the Embassy
will work with them on a positive political dialogue in Ethiopia.
The opposition parliamentary leaders, currently in the U.S. on a
voluntary visitors program, return next week and we will pursue with
them and the ruling EPRDF party renewed efforts to discuss
political, media, and electoral reform. End Comment.

YAMAMOTO

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