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ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AP) — Ethiopia said Monday it will not release a leading opposition figure detained under the country's state of emergency after meeting with European lawmakers in Belgium.
Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn told reporters that Merara Gudina of the Oromo Federalist Congress party instead will face justice.
"Individuals in the European Parliament who are harboring anti-peace elements cannot save those who trespass the law of the country," the prime minister said.
Merara is one of 22,000 people the prime minister said were detained under the state of emergency declared in October after widespread, sometimes deadly anti-government protests. The government has said several thousand have since been released.
Merara was arrested immediately after he returned from Belgium, where he met with the lawmakers about the state of emergency. He was accused of meeting with members of an armed Ethiopian opposition group in Brussels, an act banned under the emergency law.
Photos posted on social media show him sitting next to Birhanu Nega, leader of the armed opposition group called Ginbot 7 that mainly operates from Eritrea, and Feyisa Lilesa, the Ethiopian marathon runner who crossed his wrists in a sign of protest while crossing the finish line at the Rio Olympic Games.
The Association for Human Rights in Ethiopia said the state of emergency's wide-ranging restrictions have severely affected freedoms of expression and assembly. "Tens of thousands of individuals have been arrested arbitrarily" and dissent and independent reporting have been quashed, it said.
The state of emergency is set to end in May. The prime minister did not indicate it would be extended, but he told reporters that "as far as the date of lifting the state of emergency is concerned, it should be seen in the perspective that we have to consolidate the gains that we have made so far."
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The Government of Ethiopia has been contemplating to cut down the duration of the state of emergency it has imposed throughout the country, Negeri Lencho (PhD) the new minister for Government Communication Affairs Office told journalists in his first presser.
The state of emergency declared on October 8, 2016 essentially targeted to restore order, ensure safety of the public and stability Negeri said in the press conference he gave late on Friday at his office, which is located off Africa Avenue.
“Two months after the enactment of the state of emergency, things are now returning back to normal,” the new minister said.
Therefore, according to Negeri, there is no reason to maintain the state of emergency for the period of six months.
This has also been notified to the diplomatic corps based in Addis Ababa during their recent meeting with the Prime Minister, Negeri said.
According to the communications minister, countries such as Germany, Spain and the UK are also responding by canceling their travel ban to Ethiopia. He further said that the government will likely release the mobile data connection after carefully assessing the situations.
Violent activities carried out in various parts of the country led to the loss of lives and enormous damage on private and public properties leading the government to decree a state of emergency for six months.