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Ethiopia Rules Out Early Elections to Address Unrest

FILE - In this Sunday, Oct. 2, 2016 file photo, protesters chant slogans against the government during a march in Bishoftu, in the Oromia region of Ethiopia.

Ethiopia’s government has ruled out holding new nationwide elections to address the grievances behind nearly a year of deadly protests. But the opposition says the changes the government is undertaking are not good enough.

Government spokesman Getachew Reda says Ethiopia will not call for an early vote. The next regional and nationwide elections are scheduled for 2020.

“What we are trying to do is to follow the election cycle," said Reda. "This government does not have the slightest of intention to all of sudden change the law and call for a vote based on a changed law. We are here for the long haul.”

Reda said Wednesday parliament will instead convene to endorse a proposal from the prime minister to reorganize the Cabinet. That is expected in the next week, though Reda did not give an exact date.

Opposition leader Merera Gudina of the Oromo People’s Congress told VOA this crisis can only be solved with new elections.

“They are still playing their own game with the reshuffling of their own personnel which for us it is nothing when people are asking fundamental basic change of policies and in fact the resignation of the ruling party, and demanding for new elections," said Gudina.

During protests in the past year, hundreds have died, thousands have been arrested, and the government has imposed a six-month state of emergency restricting movement and independent media.

FILE - Ethiopian soldiers try to stop protesters in Bishoftu, in the Oromia region of Ethiopia.
FILE - Ethiopian soldiers try to stop protesters in Bishoftu, in the Oromia region of Ethiopia.

Oromia protests

Students began demonstrating in the central Oromia region in November of last year over an urban expansion plan for the capital city. But the movement has widened to take on a host of concerns.

Since 1991, the country has been run by the same political coalition, led by the Tigrayan ethnic minority.

Earlier this week, the Oromia regional government appointed new leadership. But those appointments were from within the same party. The regional government remains led by an ethnic Oromo faction within the ruling coalition, the Oromo People’s Democratic Organization, OPDO.

Fekadu Tesemma, spokesman for the Oromia regional government, says they agree they have not responded to the development needs of the Oromo people in the appropriate manner and speed. But he says that they did not come to the conclusion that the OPDO cannot lead and administer the Oromo people.

Rights abuses

Human rights organizations have often criticized Ethiopia for its lack of human rights and political freedom. In the last elections in 2015, the ruling party won all the parliament seats.

The government has suggested adjusting the electoral law so opposition parties could take more seats.

Solomon Tessema of the Blue Party says changes to one law are not enough at a time when people are demanding freedom.

"We need to have even other compromises, both within the party and outside the party," said Tessema. "We are working to end the ERPDFs monopoly, in every policy and in every activity that has been going on for the last 25 years.”

The international community has called for an inclusive dialogue to address grievances and has called for security forces to show restraint.