By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia — Ethiopia’s government on Monday blamed Egypt for supporting outlawed rebels and forcing the declaration of the country’s first state of emergency in a quarter-century as widespread anti-government protests continue.
There is “ample evidence” that Egypt provided training and financing to the Oromo Liberation Front, labeled a terrorist organization by Ethiopia, government spokesman Getachew Reda told journalists in the capital, Addis Ababa. “We know for a fact that the terrorist group OLF is receiving all kinds of support from Egypt.”
Egypt last week denied any support for the Ethiopian rebels. The two countries have long been in a dispute over a massive hydroelectric dam that Ethiopia is building on the Nile River, with Egypt saying the project will reduce its share of the river’s flow.
The six-month state of emergency declared Sunday will be used to reorganize the security forces to better respond to the anti-government protests throughout much of the Oromia region, Getachew said.
The developments come as German Chancellor Angela Merkel is set to visit Ethiopia on Tuesday and meet with Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn on issues including the migrant crisis. Ethiopia is one of the world’s top host countries of refugees.
Merkel will discuss the current political situation and “of course clearly address human rights,” German government spokeswoman Ulrike Demmer said.
On Monday, Ethiopia’s president announced during a Parliament session that the country’s election law would be amended to accommodate more political parties and opposing views.
At least 400 people have been killed in anti-government protests in the past year, human rights groups and opposition activists have said. The protesters have been demanding wider freedoms in a country that is a close security ally of the West and one of Africa’s best-performing economies.
On Oct. 2, more than 50 people were killed in a stampede after security forces opened fire on anti-government protesters during a religious festival in Bishoftu, southeast of the capital. The incident sparked more violence in Oromia, where hundreds of local and foreign businesses have been attacked over suspected government ties and more people have been killed, according to both the government and opposition.
An internet blackout that has been in place for the past five days was briefly lifted Monday before service disappeared again.
The state of emergency will not mean a total ban on civilian rights and there will not be a blanket curfew across the country, Getachew said. “This is not an attempt by the military to take over,” he added.
The government has said the state of emergency may include a curfew in some locations, arrests and search-and-seizures without a court order, restrictions on the right to assembly and a ban on some communications.
The six months is the maximum time Ethiopia allows for a state of emergency, but it can be renewed.
An informal state of emergency has been in place in Ethiopia for some time during which people have been arbitrarily arrested and even killed, Mulatu Gemechu of the opposition Oromo Federalist Congress party told The Associated Press.
“Declaring a state of emergency at this time in Ethiopia is aimed at legitimizing the killings that we have seen in the Oromia region recently,” Mulatu said. “It won’t solve the public’s problems and will only worsen it. What people are looking for is a radical change. The people now want the setting up of a transitional or caretaker government.”
Ethiopian lawmakers are expected to convene later Monday after a two-month recess, and a Cabinet reshuffle is expected in the next two to three weeks, said government spokesman Getachew.
Associated Press writer Geir Moulson in Berlin contributed to this report.