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US Embassy in Ethiopia "Strongly" Disagrees with Country's State of Emergency

Supporters of Bekele Gerba, secretary general of the Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC), chant slogans to celebrate Gerba's release from prison, in Adama, Oromia Region, Ethiopia Feb. 14, 2018.

The U.S. Embassy in Ethiopia said Saturday it opposes the Ethiopian government's imposition of a state of emergency.

Ethiopia’s Council of Ministers Friday declared a six-month state of emergency for the country, effective immediately, a day after Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn announced he is resigning.

"We strongly disagree with the Ethiopian government’s decision to impose a state of emergency that includes restrictions on fundamental rights such as assembly and expression," the embassy said in a statement. The state of emergency, the embassy said, "undermines recent positive steps toward creating a more inclusive political space" and sends a message to the Ethiopian people that "they are not being heard."

Ethiopian Defense Minister Siraj Fegessa ruled out a military takeover Saturday, but said security forces have been told to take "measures" against those disrupting the country's operations.

A government statement said the state of emergency, which Siraj said must receive legislative approval within 15 days, was declared to “protect the constitutional order and to protect peace and security.” The statement also said that recent ethnic-based violence, killings and destruction of properties were among the reasons behind the decision.

Ethiopia has witnessed waves of anti-government protests over the past few years, stoked by demands for free and fair elections and a more equal distribution of power among the country's ethnic groups. The ruling EPRDF coalition controls all the seats in parliament.

In an effort to ease tensions, the government this week released more than 700 prisoners arrested during the protests and a previous state of emergency. Those released included several prominent opposition leaders and well-known journalist Eskinder Nega, a critic of the government.

Hailemariam, 52, has served as prime minister since September 2012.Speaking on state television Thursday, he said he is stepping down "to be part of the solution and for the success of the reforms and the solutions we have put in place."

His resignation must be confirmed by parliament.