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Ethiopia bans protests under state of emergency

February 17, 2018

Ethiopia says a state of emergency, imposed after the prime minister stepped down in a surprise move, will last six months. Authorities say the measure is necessary to "protect the constitutional system."

Refugees in Ethiopia
Ethnic clashes between the Oromo and Somali ethnicities displaced thousands last yearImage: DW/J. Jeffrey

A state of emergency imposed in Ethiopia on Friday after Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn (above photo) resigned includes a ban on protests and publications inciting violence, Ethiopian Defense Minister Siraj Fegessa said on Saturday.

"There are still pockets of areas where violence is prevalent. The (ruling EPRDF) coalition's council were unanimous in their decision," he told journalists.

He said security forces had been instructed to take "measures" against those who disrupted order and that a new special court had been set up to try them.

'Strongly disagree'

The United States embassy in Ethiopia said it disagreed with the government's decision to impose a state of emergency.

"We strongly disagree with the Ethiopian government’s decision to impose a state of emergency that includes restrictions on fundamental rights such as assembly and expression," it said in a statement.

"We recognize and share concerns expressed by the government about incidents of violence and loss of life, but firmly believe that the answer is greater freedom, not less," the US embassy said.

'Ethnic-based clashes'

The state of emergency, which Siraj said would last at least six months, comes amid the worst anti-government protests in 25 years

It is the second time since 2016 that the country has issued such an emergency decree.

A communique read out on national television justified the move by alluding to "ethnic-based clashes" and "chaos and unruliness."

"Because of the dangers the constitution and the constitutional system is facing, [...] it is difficult to keep the law in the usual way. To be able to protect the constitutional system, declaring a state of emergency has become necessary," it said.

Prisoner amnesty

Announcing his resignation in a televised address on Thursday, Hailemariam Desalegn said he was stepping down to allow the ruling Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) to better implement political reforms. He will remain in office until his resignation is confirmed by the parliament and the EPRDF coalition.

A day before his resignation, he presided over a massive prisoner amnesty that saw detained politicians from the Oromo ethnic group freed along with hundreds of other prisoners. The prisoner release came after protests and a strike in Oromia that urged the government to fulfil its pledge in this regard.

Ethiopia frees prisoners

The last state of emergency in 2016, which lasted for 10 months, came after months of deadly protests in Oromia and the neighboring Amhara region. Some 29,000 people were detained under the decree, while rights groups claimed people were beaten and subjected to arbitrary detentions.

The government denies the charges.

Amhara, Oromia Englisch

ap, tj/ng (AFP, Reuters)