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The European Union’s top diplomat in Ethiopia wants to use a favorite national pastime in both Eritrea and Ethiopia to help ease tensions over the two nations’ disputed border.

Ambassador Tim Clarke, who heads the European delegation to Addis Ababa, calls the race a “germ of an idea.” But he hopes the two nations with world-class runners could set aside their territorial differences and find common ground in sport. Ambassador Clarke says meetings will be held this week with other European diplomats in Addis Ababa and Asmara to work out details.

So far, he says, Olympic Gold Medalist Haile Gebreselassie has expressed support as have Ethiopian government officials.

“It’s only an idea that’s emerged in the last few days,” so we have not had any extensive discussions with anyone yet,” he said.

Tensions along the border have been growing for months. The United Nations Security Council recently passed a resolution that calls on both sides to reduce force levels along the border, and holds out the possibility of economic sanctions if neither side fails to comply.

Ambassador Clarke says the European Union has been considering ways to ease tensions between Ethiopia and Eritrea to avert a repeat of their costly 1998-2000 war, and the race is only one idea being considered. Clarke says the run is a natural way to bridge difference between the two countries.

“It may come to nothing, you never know, but we just think there’s been this stalemate for so long that we just thought let’s try some new ideas,” he said.

Ambassador Clarke envisages a race where runners from Eritrea and from Ethiopia would meet at the border, and he says he is willing to compete. Similar sporting events were used to ease ethnic tensions in the Balkans conflicts a decade ago.

An Ethiopian court has again denied bail for a group of jailed opposition leaders and journalists but has ordered prosecutors to produce formal charges against them in 15 days.

The 23 detainees appeared in an Addis Ababa courtroom on Thursday, with many looking weak and tired from a hunger strike that started Monday.

All were arrested during anti-government riots last month in which at least 46 people died. Police opened fire on similar protests in June, killing at least 36.

Prosecutors said the group was responsible for the loss of life and tried to overthrow the government by force. Defense attorneys rejected the accusations.

The accused include 19 members of Ethiopia's main opposition group (the Coalition for Unity and Democracy), three journalists, and one trade union official.

The opposition group has accused the government of stealing victory in May parliamentary elections.

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