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Ethiopia to Drop Charges Against Top Dissident Bekele Gerba

FILE - Ethiopia's Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn.

Ethiopia will drop charges against top dissident Bekele Gerba, state media reported Monday.

The move is the latest by the Ethiopian government following up on Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn's promise last month to begin releasing political prisoners.

"The federal attorney general today dropped charges against seven suspects, including Bekele Gerba," state-affiliated Fana Broadcast Corporate reported.

"The move is part of the decisions made by [the] Executive Committee of EPRDF to drop charges against and pardon politicians and individuals, in order to build national consensus and widen the political space," the broadcaster said, referring to the ruling Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front.

Gerba, a foreign-language professor and deputy leader of the opposition Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC), was arrested in December 2015 as his ethnic group began protesting laws they feared would lead to them losing their land.

Since then, Gerba has faced additional charges, including "contempt" and six months in prison after he sang a protest song in court.

It is still unclear when Gerba will be released and whether the pardon includes charges he has incurred since his initial arrest.

The planned release and other recent prisoner releases are aimed at reducing tensions in the Horn of Africa country following a wave of anti-government protests in 2015 and 2016, mainly in the southern Oromia region, that sparked a nationwide state of emergency and a government crackdown.

The attorney general said 417 of those to be released are convicted prisoners, while another 329 are suspects still awaiting trial.