Ethiopia to free 10,000 'rehabilitated' people arrested under state of emergency

Ethiopia declares state of emergency after civil unrestReuters

Ethiopia has announced it will release around 10,000 people arrested during a state of emergency the country declared following months of anti-government protests in Amhara and Oromia regions. Authorities will charge some 2,500 others, accused of destabilising the country.

Deputy government spokesman Zadig Abraha said that 9,800 people, mostly from Oromia and Amhara, were being freed.

"They have been given lots of training... so that they won't be part of the destructive trend that we have seen in the past," he was quoted by AP as saying.

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Ethiopia implemented the state of emergency in October following protests labelled as the biggest anti-government unrest the country has witnessed in recent history.

The government said it would send detainees to rehabilitation centres.

Members of the opposition, activists and rights groups repeatedly claimed the response to the protests resulted in the death of more than 500 people since November 2015.

Critics of the state of emergency – which restricts, among other things, freedom of movement and the use of social media – claimed it will be used to quell the ongoing unrest. The restrictive measures are expected to last until April 2017.

The government, which often blamed "outside forces" including from Eritrea and Egypt for the protests, said it would use the new measures to coordinate security forces against "anti-peace elements" that aim to destabilise the country.

Earlier in October, Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn admitted the death toll could be higher than 500, but denied security forces had reacted disproportionately.

Protests explained

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In Amhara, people demonstrated calling for their lands to be administered by the Amhara region, instead of the Tigray state.

Oromo people – Ethiopia's largest ethnic group – have often claimed they are disenfranchised and discriminated against by the government. The latest spate of protests was sparked in November 2015 by a government draft "Addis Ababa master plan", which aimed to expand the boundaries of the capital.

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Protesters argued the plan would lead to the forced evictions of Oromo farmers and would undermine the survival of the Oromo culture and language. The Ethiopian government scrapped the plan, following increasing agitation.

However, protests continued, with people calling for self-rule, the liberation of political prisoners and the end of what they perceive to be a military regime in the region.

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