The European Commission issued a stinging rebuke to one of its lead partners on the African continent today (2 December), telling the Ethiopian government to “start addressing the legitimate grievances of the Ethiopian people”.
The warning came after the arrest of an Ethiopian opposition leader following his return from Europe where he had spoken out against a state of emergency imposed last month to quell anti-government protests which have seen hundreds killed.
As a major donor of EU development aid, and a key partner in the Commission’s new Trust Fund for Africa aimed at quelling so-called “irregular migration”, Brussels has been slow to publicly criticise the government in Addis Ababa.
However, the detention of Merera Gudina after his trip to Europe, appears to have changed the equation.
Speaking on Friday, a Commission spokeswoman told reporters: “We have raised our concerns over the arrest with the Ethiopian authorities.
“What Ethiopia needs now is political dialogue and interaction to start addressing the legitimate grievances of the Ethiopian people.
“We have repeatedly insisted with the Ethiopian authorities that the state of emergency should be implemented in a way respectful of human rights and in a way that serves the ultimate objective of needed political reforms.
“The arrest of Mr. Gudina is therefore detrimental to process the process of reconciliation and dialogue that the EU was eager to support.
“We call on the Ethiopian authorities to clarify the situation.”
Previously, when quizzed by EurActiv.com about the rising death toll in Ethiopia – estimated by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch several months ago as more than 500 in some 18 months – the Commisssion merely pointed out that Trust Fund money went to NGOs rather than the government of Hailemariam Desalegn.
Today’s comments are much more forceful.
Gudina, the 60-year-old chairman of the Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC) was arrested at his home in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa on Wednesday and is being held in an unknown location with three others, said Beyenne Petros, president of the Medrek opposition alliance of which the OFC is a member.
The government confirmed his arrest to the state-controlled Fana Broadcasting Corporate, saying that he was held for “violating (the) state of emergency”.
Officials told the broadcaster that Gudina is accused of meeting Berhanu Nega, the leader of a banned group, while he was in Belgium.
Earlier this month, Gudina addressed the European Parliament in Brussels, alongside Olympic silver medallist runner and fellow Oromo tribe member, Feyisa Lilesa. EurActiv.com interviewed Lilesa during that trip, where he claimed the real death toll may be over 1,000.
Source: Satellite Press Releases