27 February 2018

Ethiopia: Standoff as security forces detain recently released opposition politicians, including Dr. Merera Gudina and Bekele Gerba, near Nekemt in western Ethiopia

Photo: UN
Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn.

No one could “intervene to break a standoff” as a group of recently released prominent opposition party members, including Dr. Merera Gudina and Bekele Gerba, chairman and first secretary respectively of the Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC), have been held by federal security forces in Gute town, near Nekemt, according to Addisu Bulala, Secretary of OFC’s youth league .

Addisu told Addis Standard by phone this afternoon that a delegation led by the leaders of the OFC along with local elders and other supporters who joined the leaders from Ambo, 125 km west of Addis Abeba, and other cities in Western Oromia, took off on a pre-scheduled trip from Ambo early this morning to address local residents in Nekemt city, 320 km in western Ethiopia.

“After addressing our supporters in  other small cities on our way to Nekemt, when we reached Gute, few kilometers outside of Nekemt, we were stopped by federal security forces. We have been held for the last four hours and no one is explaining to us what would happen next,” Addisu, who was himself among the recently released political prisoners, said by phone.  The delegation is also comprised of other leaders of the OFC, including Gurmesa Ayano, the youth league chairman, and Dejene Taffa, deputy secretary general, who were both released along with Bekele Gerba two weeks ago.

Since their releases, all of them have been individually touring cities and towns in Oromia regional state, where the party draws a strong support. They were welcomed by large crowds and have used the opportunity to thank their constituencies and encourage them to continue their peaceful resistance for more opening of the political space in the country.  Nekemt is the area where Bekele Gerba hails from.

“We are worried about possible security measures because we we were told that our supporters who have been waiting for us at Nekemt stadium are on their way here; while we thank the regional police for their understanding, a standoff with federal security is not what we want, so we urge these security forces who are surrounding us to restrain themselves and allow us to enter the city. We also urge our supporters to control their emotions in the event that they are confronted by security forces,” Addisu said, adding “we have been peacefully welcomed in all the small cities between Ambo and Nekemt where we stopped by to thank our constituencies; all we did was pass our message of peace.”

An officer in Nekemt police told Addis Standard  “to call a federal representative of the command post”, established to oversee the reinstated state of emergency, for answers.

Following the February 15 resignation of Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, the council of ministers has imposed a six months nationwide state of emergency and established a military command post to oversee the emergency decree. On Wednesday this week, Siraj Fegessa, minister of defense, outlined details of the state of emergency, including restrictions on unauthorized public gatherings and a gag on regional authorities from discussing security issues of their respective regions with media without the permission of the command post, established to oversee the state of emergency’s implementation and is led by Siraj himself. Unlike the 2016 -17 SoE, the fresh decree also restricted citizens from speaking to the media criticizing its provisions and implementations.

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