AFP, Monday 3 Jun 2013 –
Ethiopia opposition activists vowed Monday to press ahead with demonstrations calling for government reforms and the release of political prisoners, a day after thousands took part in a rare display of public protest.
Peaceful demonstrations were organised by the newly-formed Blue Party opposition group, which called on the government to release journalists and politicians jailed under a controversial terrorism law and urged broad government reform.
“We called the demonstration to ask for the reform of policy issues for the high cost of living, high rate of youth unemployment and systematic corruption,” Blue Party leader Yilkal Getnet told AFP.
The Blue Party has asked the government to respond to its demands within three months and has pledged to hold further demonstrations if its calls are not answered.
“If the government does not give a satisfactory answer for these questions, we will continue our protest peacefully in the coming months,” Yilkal added.
He said the group also called for “release of political prisoners… and journalists, the government should respect the right to expression”.
Journalists, opposition members and religious leaders have been jailed under Ethiopia’s 2009 anti-terrorism legislation, which rights groups say is used by the government to stifle peaceful dissent.
Yilkal said demonstrators were also protesting at what they called the forced displacement of ethnic groups for large scale farming projects in the country.
Ethiopia has been accused by US-based watchdog Human Rights Watch of forcibly relocating communities in order to free up land for foreign investment, a charge the government denies.
Sunday’s protests were the largest in the country since post-election violence in 2005, in which 200 people were killed and hundreds more arrested.
They were the first time major protests have been held in the country since Ethiopia’s former prime minister Meles Zenawi died in August 2012.
Government spokesman Bereket Simon said up to 4,000 people joined Sunday’s demonstration, while some observers put the number at 10,000.
Bereket called the protests “peaceful” and said no arrests had been made.
The Blue Party was formed in January 2012 and claims to have a 20,000-strong membership.
Opposition politics remain limited in Ethiopia. Only one chair of Ethiopia’s 547-seat parliament is occupied by an opposition member, while the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolution Democratic Front party holds all other seats.