A handful of human rights activists gathered outside the University of Winnipeg Sunday afternoon to protest an Eritrean community event, charging its purpose was to fundraise money that would eventually be funnelled into the hands of terrorists.

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A handful of human rights activists gathered outside the University of Winnipeg Sunday afternoon to protest an Eritrean community event, charging its purpose was to fundraise money that would eventually be funnelled into the hands of terrorists.

A group of about 10 people alleged the Eritrea consulate in Toronto held a seminar at the university, disguised as a cultural event, to stoke support for the African nation's notoriously corrupt and tyrannical government.

"This is a disguise, it's not a public event," said protester organizer Ghezae Hagos Berhe, himself an Eritrean refugee. "We believe it was about giving the government more money so they can support more terrorists."

Berhe alleged the seminar's purpose was to raise money for the Eritrean government, which is known to support Al-Shabab, a Somalian militant group that has been recruiting Canadian youth. The group is linked to Al-Qaeda.

Berhe tried to get the event cancelled by University of Winnipeg President Lloyd Axworthy, who Berhe said was unaware the event was taking place on campus. Axworthy sent in security guards to monitor the meeting.

Similar protests have happened in Toronto and Edmonton in recent weeks, Berhe said.

Eritrea, sandwiched between Ethiopia and Sudan along the Red Sea, has been subject to hot debate by human rights activists and the United Nations, facing strict sanctions by Western countries, including Canada.

Most recently, Canada banned weapons sales, and ordered Canadian banks to freeze any assets of Eritrean political leaders and military officials.

Organizers inside Sunday's meeting said they were simply discussing the state of their fragile home country, which has been wrapped in multiple wars with Ethiopia.

"People here are ordinary and want first-hand information on what's happening back home," said organizer Lambros Kyriakakos. "This is about the safety and well-being of our relatives back home."

A staff member from the Eritrean consulate who was at the meeting was not available for comment.

Outside the event, books and CDs were available for sale to guests, who had to sign in.

There are about 3,000 Eritreans in Winnipeg.

matt.preprost@freepress.mb.ca