October 6, 2010 / 2:22 PM / in 7 years

FACTBOX-Ethiopia's freed opposition leader Birtukan

Oct 6 (Reuters) - Ethiopia released the country’s most prominent opposition leader from jail on Wednesday, four months after the government’s landslide win in elections criticised by Western powers.

Here are some key facts about Birtukan Mideksa:

* Birtukan is a 36-year-old former judge and single mother to a five-year-old girl, who was first jailed with other opposition leaders accused of sparking riots after Ethiopia’s last elections in 2005. They were pardoned but Birtukan was thrown back in prison after she denied asking for the pardon.

* She was a senior figure in the now-defunct Coalition for Unity and Democracy before becoming leader of the Unity for Democracy and Justice party -- the party that claims the biggest membership of any in Ethiopia.

* Her supporters often point to her undeniable charisma and say she was jailed because she is the only real alternative to long-serving Prime Minister Meles Zenawi.

* Her detractors say she has become a romantic figure for the opposition because she is a young woman in a political scene dominated by old men but that she lacks the intellectual strength and strategic nous needed to lead the country.

* Analysts say her closeness to Western diplomats in Addis Ababa irritated Meles. After she was sent to jail, he said she mistakenly thought “bigwigs” could protect her if she broke the law.

* Friends say that her idol is Myanmar’s detained Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, someone her supporters regularly compare her to.

* After her imprisonment, Meles seemed reluctant to even utter her name, normally referring to her as “that woman” or “the lady”.

* Modern Ethiopian political history has been marked by power struggles between three ethnic groups -- the Amhara, the Tigrayans and the Oromo. Some analysts say Birtukan could lead the first truly multi-ethnic opposition party.

* When Birtukan was released from prison the first time, people in the poor suburb of Addis Ababa where she grew up donated $1 each to buy her a car and throw a huge party in her honour.

* She refused to talk politics after her release on Wednesday, saying such discussions were “for another time”. (Reporting by Barry Malone)

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