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Ethiopia grants amnesty to high-profile political detainees

NAIROBI, KENYA (AP) – Ethiopia’s government on Friday announced an amnesty for some of the country’s most high-profile political detainees, including opposition figure Jawar Mohammed and senior Tigray party officials, as Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed spoke of reconciliation for Orthodox Christmas.

“The key to lasting unity is dialogue,” the government said in a statement on the amnesty. “Ethiopia will make any sacrifices to this end.”

It was the most dramatic move yet by the government after the country’s deadly Tigray war entered a new phase in late December, when Tigray forces retreated into their region amid a military offensive and Ethiopian forces said they would not advance further there.

The war in Africa’s second most populous country has highlighted the deadly ethnic tensions posing the challenge to Abiy’s rule.

Ethiopia’s state broadcaster, EBC, named both Jawar and opposition figure Eskinder Nega, who were detained in July 2020 following deadly unrest over the killing of popular ethnic Oromo artist Hachalu Hundessa, as those granted amnesty. Eskinder, leader of the Balderas party, left a detention centre on Friday evening.

But Tuli Bayis, a lawyer for Jawar of the Oromo Federalist Congress party and others, told The Associated Press (AP) that they refused to leave the prison facility as the order for their release came late in the day.

“They have security risks, so they preferred to exit the correction facility in daytime,” Tuli said, adding he was not sure why the order for their release came now. “We heard it is an amnesty, that’s what we know for now.”

Ethiopia’s Ministry of Justice said the amnesty for Jawar and Nega was granted “to make the upcoming national dialogue successful and inclusive”.

Ethiopian lawmakers on December 29 approved a bill to establish a commission for national dialogue amid international pressure for negotiations to end the war.

The state broadcaster also named several senior officials with Tigray’s ruling Tigray People’s Liberation Front party as being granted amnesty and said they will be released soon. They include Sebhat Nega, Kidusan Nega, Abay Woldu, Abadi Zemu, Mulu Gebregziabher and Kiros Hagos.

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