Ethiopia declares state of emergency amid wide protests

Supporters of Bekele Gerba, secretary general of the Oromo Federalist Congress, celebrate his release from prison in Adama, Ethi­o­pia, on Feb. 14. (Tiksa Negeri/Reuters)

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia — Ethiopian officials have declared a state of emergency amid widespread anti-government protests that have persisted for more than two years and in which hundreds have been killed and several thousand detained, the majority of whom have since been released. It is the second state of emergency in two years and comes a day after the prime minister resigned.

“The current situation in the country has come to a point where it can’t be handled with normal peace protecting mechanisms,” said a statement issued by the Council of Ministers and read on the state broadcaster, the Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation, Friday evening. “It has been decided that a state of emergency is needed to protect the constitutional order of the country. The state of emergency is effective as of today.”

The Council of Ministers’ said the emergency is being declared because the protests have caused injuries and deaths, massive displacement of citizens, the destruction of properties, attacks based on ethnic lines and threats against the constitutional order of the country. It did not state how long the emergency will be in effect.

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On Thursday Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn announced his surprise resignation saying he wanted to be part of a solution to the crisis and steadfast ongoing reforms. He had been prime minister since 2012.

This week Ethiopia has been rocked by crippling protests in towns across the restive Oromia region in which demonstrators called for the release of political prisoners and urged the government to carry out quick reforms.

Ethiopia declared an earlier state of emergency in October, 2016, following a week of anti-government violence that resulted in deaths and property damage across the country, especially in the Oromia region, the largest of the country’s federal states. Earlier that month, a stampede at a religious event southeast of the capital, Addis Ababa, claimed the lives of several dozen people.

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During the state of emergency of 2016 and 2017 more than 22,000 people were arrested and the unrest seriously hurt one of the best performing economies in Africa. It was lifted after nine months.

Rights groups claimed people were beaten and subjected to arbitrary detentions under the previous emergency rule. The government maintained those arrested were by mistake and people were released after what it described as “training.”

On Friday, the U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa issued its fifth security alert for Ethiopia since January. The warning is for its personnel to suspend all travels outside of the capital as a precautionary measure. Also on Friday, the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., Nikki Haley, met and discussed current political issues with Ethiopia’s Foreign Minister Workneh Gebeyehu in New York.

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