'No Ethiopia military takeover' despite state of emergency

Defence Minister Siraj Fegessa said the state of emergency — declared on Friday — will last for six months with a possible four-month extension

epa06536041 Ethiopian Defense Minister Siraj Fegessa speaks during a news conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, 17 February 2018. Ethiopia declared a state of emergency on 16  February after a surprise resignation of the Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn. Ruling out a military takeover, Fegessa said the state of emergency will last for six months. Desalegn's resignation followed waves of protests in restive Oromia region urging government to release political prisoners and implement reforms.  EPA/STR
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Ethiopia's defence minister ruled out a military takeover on Saturday, a day after the country declared a new state of emergency amid the worst anti-government protests in 25 years.

Siraj Fegessa also ruled out a transitional government. Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn remains in the post for now after making the surprise announcement on Thursday that he had submitted a resignation letter to help planned political reforms in one of Africa's best-performing economies succeed.

The state of emergency will last for six months with a possible four-month extension, similar to one lifted in August, the defence minister said.

The new state of emergency, which effectively bans protests, will be presented for MPs' approval within 15 days. Mr Siraj said security forces had been instructed to take "measures" against those disturbing the country, with a new special court established to try them.

Ethiopia's cabinet on Friday cited deaths, ethnic attacks and mass displacement as reasons for the latest state of emergency. The announcement followed crippling protests in towns across the restive Oromia region on Monday and Tuesday that called for the release of political prisoners and urged the government to carry out rapid reforms.

Similar protests have taken place across Ethiopia since late 2015, leading the government to declare a state of emergency in October 2016 after hundreds of people were reportedly killed. A stampede at a religious event south-east of the capital that month killed several dozen people.

That state of emergency led to the arrest of more than 22,000 people and severely affected business.

Rights groups alleged that people were also beaten and subjected to arbitrary detentions. The government said those arrested by mistake were released and those who unwillingly took part in the unrest were released after what it described as "trainings".

The United States has responded to the latest unrest by warning its embassy personnel to suspend all travel outside of the capital. And Ethiopia's state-affiliated Fana Broadcasting corporate reported that US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley met and discussed current political issues with Foreign Minister Workneh Gebeyehu in New York.

Befekadu Hailu, a prominent blogger who has been jailed for his writings, urged Ethiopia's government to "carry out genuine reforms, negotiate with legitimate opposition groups and prepare the country for a free and fair election" to solve the unrest.

The new state of emergency will create a group of people with conflicting interests, Befekadu said. "The state of emergency was tested a year ago. It brings temporary silence but not normalcy."