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Ethiopian Negotiator Calls Release of Opposition Leaders a Welcome Development


After months of negotiations, the government of Ethiopia has released 38 opposition leaders, human rights activists and journalists. They had been convicted of what the government called the instigation of violence and an attempt to change the government through unconstitutional means. This, following the turmoil of contentious elections two years ago that saw the re-election of the ruling EPRDF party. The opposition, which also made strong gains in Parliament, charged it was cheated out of an overall victory.

Tamru Wondimagegn is a member of the negotiating team that helped facilitate the release of the detainees. He said months of negotiations came to a successful conclusion thanks to what he calls the flexibility shown by both the government and the detained leaders.

Tamru said it was significant that the accused admitted some responsibility – though not guilt – for what they called “mistakes” during the time of public protests. He said, “The admittance of mistakes on the part of the defendants was very important, very crucial, and that was exactly what they did.”

The negotiator said accepting responsibility was part of the give-and-take process by both parties, including the court, which had given many of the defendants life sentences. However, in the end, the government recommended the case to the Pardon Board based on the document reportedly signed by the opposition leaders.

The deal to release the detained leaders includes a provision that allows them to resume political activities. But Tamru was ambivalent on the question of whether the opposition leaders will now be able to take their seats in Parliament. He said, “Let’s hope that is going to happen…I’m not in a position to comment on that, but that is my understanding.”

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