ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia — Ethiopia’s defense minister has ruled out a military takeover a day after the East African nation declared a new state of emergency amid the worst anti-government protests in a quarter-century.
Siraj Fegessa on Saturday also ruled out a transitional government. Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn remains in the post for now after making the surprise announcement Thursday that he had submitted a resignation letter to help planned political reforms in one of Africa’s best-performing economies succeed.
The state of emergency will last for six months with a possible four-month extension, similar to one lifted in August, the defense minister said.
The new state of emergency, which effectively bans protests, will be presented for lawmakers’ approval within 15 days. Siraj said security forces have been instructed to take “measures” against those disturbing the country’s functioning, with a new special court established to try them.
Ethiopia’s cabinet on Friday cited deaths, ethnic attacks and mass displacement as reasons for the latest state of emergency. The announcement followed crippling protests in towns across the restive Oromia region on Monday and Tuesday that called for the release of political prisoners and urged the government to carry out rapid reforms.
Similar protests have taken place across Ethiopia since late 2015, leading the government to declare a state of emergency in October 2016 after hundreds of people reportedly had been killed. A stampede at a religious event southeast of the capital, Addis Ababa, that month claimed the lives of several dozen people.
That state of emergency led to the arrest of more than 22,000 people and severely affected business.
Rights groups alleged that people were beaten and subjected to arbitrary detentions. The government said those arrested by mistake were released and those who unwillingly took part in the unrest were released after what it described as “trainings.”
The United States has responded to the latest unrest by warning its embassy personnel to suspend all travel outside of the capital. And Ethiopia’s state-affiliated Fana Broadcasting corporate reported that the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, met and discussed current political issues with Foreign Minister Workneh Gebeyehu in New York.
Befekadu Hailu, a prominent blogger who has been jailed for his writings, urged Ethiopia’s government to “carry out genuine reforms, negotiate with legitimate opposition groups and prepare the country for a free and fair election” to solve the unrest.
The new state of emergency will create a group of people with conflicting interests, Befekadu said. “The state of emergency was tested a year ago. It brings temporary silence but not normalcy.”
What triggered unrest in Ethiopia? INSIDE STORY
Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn’s surprise resignation came after sustained anti-government protests in the East African country.
While the government considers who will take his place, it has imposed a state of emergency for the next six months.
Ethiopia is the second most populous country in the African continent, with 100 million people in more than 40 ethnic groups.
The two largest groups, the Oromo and the Amhara, make up around two-thirds of all Ethiopians.
Tigrayans account for just six percent of the population but they dominate politics and the security forces.
It’s a 25-year-old arrangement but one that is causing a great deal of resentment among the other groups.
So, what’s next for Ethiopia?
U.S. Embassy Statement on the Ethiopian Government’s Declared 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.
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 challenges facing Ethiopia, whether to democratic reform, economic growth, or lasting stability, are best addressed through inclusive discourse and political processes, rather than through the imposition of restrictions.
The declaration of a state of emergency undermines recent positive steps toward creating a more inclusive political space, including the release of thousands of prisoners. Restrictions on the ability of the Ethiopian people to express themselves peacefully sends a message that they are not being heard.
We strongly urge the government to rethink this approach and identify other means to protect lives and property while preserving, and indeed expanding, the space for meaningful dialogue and political participation that can pave the way to a lasting democracy.
Ethiopia declares state of emergency after PM quits
AL JAZEERA — Ethiopia has declared a state of emergency, a day after the country’s prime minister abruptly resigned.
The measure was announced on Friday by the Council of Ministers, the Ethiopian government’s cabinet, according to state broadcaster EBC.
Local media said the measure is effective as of Friday, but it was not immediately clear how long it would last.
Quoting an unnamed source “close to the government”, the Addis Standard newspaper reported that the Council was debating whether to make the measure span three or six months.
In August 2017, Ethiopia lifted a 10-month state of emergency imposed after hundreds of people were killed in anti-government protests demanding wider political freedoms.
Ethiopia’s Oromo and Amhara people – who make up about 61 percent of the country’s population – have staged mass demonstrations since 2015 demanding greater political inclusion and an end to human rights abuses.
Jawar Mohammed, an Oromo rights activist and head of the Oromia Media Network, said the state of emergency declaration was “unnecessary, unhelpful and unwise”.
“The best way to ensure stability at this time is not to declare state of emergency that was tested and failed,” Mohammed wrote on Facebook earlier on Friday.
Felix Horne, a Human Rights Watch researcher on Ethiopia, said during the last state of emergency – the first in 25 years – more than 20,000 people were arrested.
“Those released speak about how it has only angered them further. It didn’t work then, what does [the government] hope to achieve now?” Horne wrote on Twitter.
Hailemariam, who has sat at the helm of the Ethiopian government since 2012, announced on Thursday he would be stepping down as prime minister and head of the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) coalition.
He cited ongoing “unrest and a political crisis” in the country as major factors in his resignation, which he described as “vital in the bid to carry out reforms that would lead to sustainable peace and democracy”.
Hailemariam said he will stay on as prime minister in a caretaker capacity, until the EPRDF and the country’s parliament accept his resignation and name a replacement.
The executive committees of both the EPRDF and his own party within the coalition, the Southern Ethiopian People’s Democratic Movement, have so far accepted his decision to step down.
Tsedale Lemma, editor-in-chief of Addis Standard, said there has been a political struggle within the ruling party since the death of former prime minister, Meles Zenawi, in 2012.
Appointing a new prime minister from within the Oromo community would be “a conciliatory gesture”, Lemma said.
But whomever replaces Hailemariam, she said Ethiopia “needs a very serious political surgery to heal it from its structural [disfunction]”, which would include dismantling repressive laws and strengthening the independence of the judiciary.
Mulatu Gemechu, deputy secretary of the opposition Oromo Federalist Congress, said earlier on Friday that Ethiopia needs a new political system after years of unrest.
“Ethiopians now need a government that respects their rights, not one that keeps beating and killing them,” he told Reuters news agency.