UPDATE 3-Ethiopia jails blogger, reporters, opposition figures

Fri Jul 13, 2012 4:58pm GMT

* Twenty jailed, most in absentia, on plot charge

* Rights groups say govt clamping down on media

* EU's Ashton concerned over severity of sentences (Adds EU foreign policy chief's comment)

By Aaron Maasho

ADDIS ABABA, July 13 (Reuters) - Twenty Ethiopians, including a prominent blogger, journalists and opposition figures were jailed for between eight years to life on Friday on charges of conspiring with rebels to topple the government.

The European Union's foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said she was "seriously concerned" by the severity of the sentences, which were also condemend by Amnesty International and other rights groups.

The Horn of Africa nation, a major recipient of Western aid, is fighting separatist rebel movements and armed groups it says are backed by arch-foe Eritrea.

But rights groups say Ethiopia, sandwiched between volatile Somalia and Sudan, regularly uses security concerns as an excuse to crack down on dissent and media freedoms.

The Addis Ababa government, a key ally in Washington's campaign against Islamist militants in Somalia, denies the charge. No one was immediately available to comment on Friday.   Continued...

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