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Ethiopia arrests opposition leader after speech at EU parliament

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Demonstrators chant slogans while flashing the Oromo protest gesture during Irreecha, the thanksgiving festival of the Oromo people, in Bishoftu town, Oromia region, Ethiopia, October 2, 2016 (Reuters Photo)

By Tesfa-Alem Tekle

December 2, 2016 (ADDIS ABABA) – Ethiopian security forces arrested a prominent Ethiopian opposition leader from the troubled Oromia region.

Merera Gudina, who is the chairman of the opposition Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC), was arrested on Wednesday in the capital Addis Ababa up on his return from Brussels.

The arrest of the opposition figure follows a meeting he held with members of the European Parliament in Brussels.

Merera, delivered a speech at EU parliament on the current situation in Ethiopia along with Prof. Berhanu Nega who is leader of the banned opposition movement, Ginbot 7 and Olympics athlete Feyisa Lellisa who staged protest sign at the Rio Olympics.

OFC officials said they haven’t been given any explanation for his arrest.

Government sources however told Sudan Tribune that he was arrested for violating the terms of a state of emergency declared in October after deadly protests in the restive Oromia region.

The State emergency directive article 2 prohibits any communication with "anti-peace elements" and opposition organizations branded by Ethiopia as "terrorist" entities.

The state-affiliated Fana Broadcasting Corporate reported Thursday that the opposition leader is under investigation for meeting the leader of an outlawed group while he travelled in Belgium.

Since last year, the Horn of African nation has faced an unprecedented wave of bloody protests that claimed the lives of over 500 people.

But the country’s most recent protests were sparked after a religious festival in Oromia region turned into anti-government protests claiming lives of 55 in stampede.

In October, the government has declared a six-month state of emergency giving the authorities the power to arrest anyone without court authorization and impose curfews..

Opposition officials told Sudan Tribune on Friday that the decree is being used as a tool to restrict opposition activities.

Merera had long been a leading government critic and he has recently been criticizing the government on the way security forces handled Oromo protesters.

On November 12, Ethiopia’s State of Emergency Inquiry Board - in a televised statement - announced that authorities have arrested 11,607 since the decree was passed.

Protests among the Oromo, Ethiopia’s biggest ethnic group initially sparked over territorial rights but later turned into more political and economic rights.

Protesters of Oromos and Amhara which is the country’s second largest ethnic group are discontented that the ruling coalition is dominated by the Tigray minority group and demand a more inclusive power sharing.

Opposition parties have failed to secure a single parliamentary seat during the past election.

(ST)

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