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article imageEthiopia says emergency rule to last six months

By Chris Stein (AFP)     Feb 17, 2018 in World

Ethiopia said Saturday that a state of emergency will remain in place for six months, as the authorities banned protests to quell what they termed "chaos and unruliness" despite condemnation from key ally the United States.

The council of ministers declared the country's second emergency decree in two years on Friday evening, capping a tumultuous week that saw Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn's surprise resignation, a strike in the country's largest region and a massive prisoner amnesty.

The US embassy in Addis Ababa on Saturday said it "strongly" disagrees with "restrictions on fundamental rights such as assembly and expression."

Saying the declaration "undermines recent positive steps toward creating a more inclusive political space," the embassy called on the government "to rethink this approach."

The capital was calm on Saturday, with businesses open and no extra security forces deployed on the streets.

Defence Minister Siraj Fegessa told a press conference: "the state of emergency will last for six months, and it must be presented to House of People's Representatives and approved within 15 days."

The approval is near-certain given that the ruling Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) and its allies control all the seats in the legislature in Africa's second most populous country.

The government had cited "ethnic-based clashes" and "chaos and unruliness" as the reasons for the move.

"To be able to protect the constitutional system, declaring a state of emergency has become necessary", the state-run Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation (EBC) said, quoting a government communique.

State-affiliated Fana Broadcast Corporate also reported Siraj dismissing "as false rumours of military takeover of the government".

"I don’t think the state of emergency will bring peace and stability," Addis Ababa resident Andualem Melese told AFP.

"Peace and stability should be brought by the negotiation amongst people and the government."

- 'Part of the solution' -

Besides the protest ban, Fana reported the decree allows police to search people and houses and make arrests without a warrant. The government may also impose a curfew.

Journalist Eskinder Nega   who was given an 18-year prison sentence in 2012 on accusations of links ...
Journalist Eskinder Nega, who was given an 18-year prison sentence in 2012 on accusations of links to a banned group, gestures after being released from prison

The provisions are similar to Ethiopia's last state of emergency declared in October 2016 after months of protests in Oromia -- home to the country's largest ethnic group, the Oromos -- and neighbouring Amhara region.

The 10-month decree succeeded in quelling the unrest, which killed hundreds and resulted in tens of thousands of arrests, despite criticism from rights groups.

But anti-government sentiment remained in the two regions and the analysts believe Hailemariam's response to the protests eventually led to his resignation, a first in modern Ethiopia.

The prime minister said he was leaving to give the EPRDF space as it pursued political reforms.

"I myself want to become part of the solution," he said in announcing his resignation on Thursday.

Last month, Hailemariam said Ethiopia would release some jailed "politicians" to "improve the national consensus and widen the democratic platform".

Thousands of prisoners were since pardoned or released from custody, including some of the country's most prominent dissidents.

Nonetheless, Oromo activists called a strike earlier this week that saw businesses shutter and young men armed with rocks and sticks block roads in Oromia to push the government to keep its prisoner amnesty promise.

The strike was called off after detained Oromo politicians were freed along with hundreds of other prisoners, including journalist Eskinder Nega and opposition leader Andualem Arage.

The next day, Hailemariam announced his resignation.

A state of emergency gives the federal government authority over all security forces, including local militias and regional police, said Ethiopia researcher Rene Lefort.

"The executive, the government... lost control" earlier in the week, Lefort said. "Otherwise, they would not discuss about the state of emergency."

It is unclear who will take over from Hailemariam or when that decision will be made. He remains in office until parliament and the EPRDF coalition accept his resignation.

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