15 February 2018

Ethiopia Prime Minister Desalegn Resigns

Photo: UN
Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn.

Less than 24 hours after South African President Jacob Zuma was forced to resign by his own party, another African leader has thrown in the towel.

Ethiopia's Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, has today, in a surprise move tendered in his resignation as both the country's premier and chairman of the ruling coalition.

"I see my resignation as vital in the bid to carry out reforms that would lead to sustainable peace and democracy...I believe my party and government will make history again by conducting peaceful power transition", Desalegn said in a televised address.

He has said he will remain prime minister in a caretaker capacity until the ruling Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) and the country's parliament accepted his resignation and named a new premier.

Between 2015 and 2016 hundreds of demonstrators were imprisoned but since the beginning of this year, many have been released. They were protesting against restrictions on political freedoms and human rights abuses.

"Unrest and a political crisis have led to the loss of lives and displacement of many"

On Tuesday a senior opposition leader was released from prison and all charges against him dropped, a day after demonstrators blocked roads and staged rallies in several towns to protest against his incarceration.

Bekele Gerba, secretary general of the Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC), was arrested in December 2015 after mass protests broke out in the Oromiya region over accusations that farmers were being forced to sell land with scant compensation.

He had been held initially on terrorism charges, which were later reduced to charges of incitement to violence. State-affiliated media confirmed that Bekele had been freed along with seven other opposition figures, and that the charges against him had been dropped.

Bekele's release came amid a three-day strike across Oromiya province, which surrounds the capital, as well as a mass pardoning of dissidents by the government aimed at reducing unrest that has simmered since 2015.

Nearly 6,000 prisoners have been freed since January, mainly people who had been detained for alleged involvement in unrest in Oromiya, or, to a lesser extent, the Amhara region.

Bekele was sentenced last month to six months for contempt of court after he and other opposition members sang a protest song during their trial. Had he not been freed, a verdict on his incitement charge would have been handed down on March 7.

On Tuesday, large crowds marched in various towns in Oromiya and roads remained blocked with large stones, including in the towns of Jimma, Woliso and Legetafo.

Markets, schools and banks remained closed in most of the areas, residents said. Some protesters attacked vehicles.

"Many Oromo politicians remain unjustly incarcerated, such as Bekele," said one protester in the town of Jimma, who gave his name only as Awol, speaking before news that Bekele had been freed. "All should be released. That is why we are striking."

Sparked initially by an urban development plan for the capital, unrest spread in 2015 and 2016 with demonstrations against political restrictions and human rights abuses.

Rights groups say hundreds have died in the violence. Ethiopia is often accused of using security concerns as an excuse to stifle dissent, as well as suppressing non-governmental organizations and the media, which the government denies.

Last November, then Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe was also forced by the army and party to resign from the presidency.

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