By William Davison | June 03, 2013
(Bloomberg BusinessWeek) –Ethiopia’s opposition Blue Party, which
yesterday held the country’s largest protests in eight years, said it’s
planning more demonstrations unless the state meets demands including
the release of “political” prisoners.
About 4,000 people demonstrated near government buildings yesterday
in the capital, Addis Ababa, according to State Minister of
Communications Shimeles Kemal. Most of those who took part in the
peaceful protest were Islamist extremists, he said in a phone interview
today from the city.
The Blue Party is demanding the release of journalists and political
leaders convicted on terrorism charges, Getaneh Balcha, head of
organizational affairs, said in a phone interview today. Religious
leaders being tried for terrorism offenses should also be freed and the
state should take steps to combat high inflation and corruption by
officials, he said.
“We are protesting for our freedom,” Getaneh said. More protests will
be held if the government fails to address the party’s demands within
the next three months, he said.
The demonstration yesterday was the biggest since 2005, when
government opponents protested over the outcome of a disputed election,
leading to the deaths of at least 193 people in a crackdown by security
forces. In 2009, Ethiopia introduced anti-terror legislation that has
been used against opposition politicians and reporters and which has
been criticized by the U.S. and the United Nations.
“It’s good we break the fear,” Telayneh Adugna, 63, said in an
interview at the demonstration yesterday. “Breaking the fear is no small
Opposition politicians and journalists including online writer
Eskinder Nega and Woubshet Taye, former deputy editor of the defunct
Awramba Times, were convicted last year under the terrorism law for
crimes including trying to incite anti-government protests and links to
Members of a committee formed to ask the government to stop
unconstitutional interference in Islamic affairs are on trial for
terrorism charges. Protesters have gathered at mosques regularly after
Friday prayers for more than 18 months to protest the interference and
More than 90 percent of the demonstrators yesterday were Muslim,
Shimeles said. While the party has a right to protest, organizers will
be held responsible for breaking the law, he said.
“If it’s a serious encroachment that requires legal response then they may be held responsible,” he said.
The demands for on-trial suspects to be released and the mixing of
religion and politics are unconstitutional in Ethiopia, which is a
secular and democratic state, Shimeles said.
All Ethiopians are allowed to demonstrate for their rights, Getaneh
said. “This government always says peaceful protests are terrorist
acts,” he said.