By Nizar Manek
Ethiopian authorities ordered the country’s security forces to “take all the necessary measures” to deal with anti-government agents in the restive Oromia region.
The so-called Command Post, which is administering a state of emergency declared on Feb. 16, must deal with “illegal forces” in Oromia if they “do not refrain from their destructive actions immediately,” according to a statement published Tuesday by the ruling-party funded Fana Broadcasting Corp.
The government has been struggling for more than two years to end sporadic and often deadly anti-government protests in the Oromia and Amhara regions. The Oromo and Amhara communities together make up more than half of Ethiopia’s population, Africa’s largest after Nigeria. Activists from both groups claim that minority ethnic Tigrayans, who are about 6 percent of the population, dominate an authoritarian government.
One person was killed this week and seven were wounded as protests continue in Nekemte, an Oromia market town about 242 kilometers (151 miles) west of the capital, Addis Ababa, Oromia spokesman Addisu Arega said in a Facebook post Tuesday, citing reports received by the regional government.
Government forces blocked leaders of the opposition Oromo Federalist Congress, including Chairman Merera Gudina and Secretary-General Bekele Gerba from entering Nekemte on Sunday, said Beyene Petros, who heads the Medrek coalition of opposition parties that includes the OFC. Merera was freed from prison in January and Bekele this month as part of a mass release of more than 7,000 detainees first announced by the government in January.
“The population is angry and reacting,” Beyene said by phone from Addis Ababa. “The population was waiting to receive the leaders of the Oromo Federalist Congress.”
Calls to the mobile phones of Merera and Information Minister Negeri Lencho didn’t connect when Bloomberg sought comment.
Bekele and Merera “had to be sent back to Addis,” according to Beyene. “Since we are under a state of emergency, under that kind of embargo, no activities are allowed.”
Ethiopia, Africa’s fastest-growing economy over the past decade, is a key U.S. ally in its battle against al-Qaeda in the Horn of Africa. Home to more than 100 million people, the $72 billion economy has drawn investors including General Electric Co., Johannesburg-based Standard Bank Group and hundreds of Chinese companies.
The U.S. on Feb. 17 said it strongly disagreed with Ethiopia’s decision to impose a state of emergency that “includes restrictions on fundamental rights such as assembly and expression.”