ADDIS ABABA, ETHIOPIA - Ethiopian lawmakers on Thursday extended the country's six-month state of emergency for an additional four months. The widely expected move came amid reports of continued violence and anti-government activities in some remote, restive areas.
The state of emergency, called after months of sometimes deadly protests demanding wider political freedoms, has hurt one of Africa's fastest-growing economies.
"We still have some anti-peace elements that are active and want to capitalize on disputes that arise among regional states in the country," Ethiopia's defense minister, Siraj Fegessa, told lawmakers. "In addition, some leaders of the violent acts that we witnessed before are still at large."
More than 25,000 people suspected of taking part in protests were detained under the state of emergency. Several thousand have been released. The government has indicated that a "few thousand" others will face justice for their role in organizing the protests.
Hundreds died in the protests that first ignited in the Oromia region in November 2015 and spread into the Amhara region, with people also demanding the release of political prisoners.
Ethiopia's security has improved but the extension of the state of emergency is needed to bring a "lasting peace," said the defense minister, who cited a government-conducted nationwide poll in which he said the public "significantly" demanded the extension.
Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn in a recent address to parliament said 82 percent of Ethiopians want a partial or full continuation of the state of emergency. However, opposition figures and parties say it is used to clamp down on their activities, especially in rural regions.
Ethiopia's parliament is 100 percent controlled by the ruling EPRDF party.
Some parts of the state of emergency recently were removed, including arbitrary arrests without court orders and restrictions on radio, television and theater.