Hailemariam Desalegn: Ethiopia's state of emergency could end sooner

The prime minister also says that the country's "solid foundation" lends itself to a quick economic recovery, following months of violent protests.

Ethiopia’s six-month state of emergency could be called off before that period is over, allowing the economy to recover quickly after months of violent protests and attacks on businesses, said Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn.

“I think it can quickly settle down and we don’t even need six months of the emergency period that’s been set,” Hailemariam said in an interview Tuesday in the capital, Addis Ababa. “We are pretty sure that we can regain it very quickly because Ethiopia has a solid ground, a solid foundation, it cannot be shaken by these kind of things.”

Ethiopia’s authorities declared a state of emergency on October 9 after a series of attacks on foreign-owned businesses by anti-government demonstrators. More than 700 people have been killed by security forces in the Oromia and Amhara regions since protests began in November, according to the Association for Human Rights in Ethiopia. The demonstrations began with people from the Oromo ethnic group alleging unfair expropriation of farms, state repression and the economic and political marginalisation of the community.

The Ethiopian government is using a proportionate amount of force to disperse protesters and will investigate claims that security agents are taking excessive measures, Hailemariam told reporters earlier during a visit by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is in the Horn of Africa nation as part of a three-day tour of the continent.

Government seeks to reform electoral system
Germany is prepared to support Ethiopia on its “road toward democratisation,” Merkel told reporters. “When you have a vibrant democracy, you need an opposition, you need a free media,” she said. “You have to see to it there’s a proper debate on the different views.”

The government, which alleges that Egyptian elements may be backing the protesters, will begin talks with protesters, opposition parties and civil society organisations during the state of emergency, Hailemariam said.

“That engagement will avoid whatever conspiracy they have outside,” he said during the interview. The government is also considering change to a first-past-the-post voting system, the premier said. “We want to reform the electoral system where the voices of those who are not represented can also be heard in the Parliament,” he said during the press conference with Merkel.

Criticism over failure to protect civil rights
Ethiopia’s multi-ethnic ruling coalition won all seats in parliamentary elections last year, while one opposition lawmaker was voted into the 547-member federal chamber in 2010. The US, the United Nations and rights groups including Amnesty International have criticised the government for violating constitutionally protected civil rights, such as criminalising legitimate dissent and jailing opponents.

Opponents of the government argue that Ethiopia’s economic gains haven’t been matched by increased political freedoms since the ruling party cracked down on the opposition in 2005, after losses in that year’s elections. – Bloomberg

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