For the first time time in 25 years, Ethiopia has declared a state of emergency as deadly anti-government protests continue by members of the country’s two major ethnic groups, according to BBC. Speaking on state-run television Sunday, Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn said the state of emergency was issued to protect citizens following the death of more than 50 people in a stampede that was triggered by protests at a religious ceremony in the Oromia region last week.
Quartz reports that the six month period the state of emergency has been issued for is the longest time it can be declared according to the country’s constitution. It can be renewed every four months if two thirds of Ethiopia’s parliamentary body vote to approve the extension.
“We put our citizens’ safety first. Besides, we want to put an end to the damage that is being carried out against infrastructure projects, education institutions, health centers, administration, and justice buildings.” Desalegn said.
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“The state of emergency will not breach basic human rights enshrined under the Ethiopian constitution and won’t also affect diplomatic rights listed under the Vienna Convention,” he added.
Internet access to social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Viber were blocked to the general public last week, as authorities try to quell anti-government rhetoric which they believe is being spread online by members of the country’s diaspora community.
Human Rights Watch, a research and advocacy-based NGO, says more than 500 people have been killed and tens of thousands have been detained since last year, but the Ethiopian government says those numbers are inflated.
The NGO is urging the government to conduct an independent and international investigation on the deaths.
Since November last year, the Oromo and Amhara communities, who make up the majority of Ethiopia’s population, have demanded more political representation, economic power, and land rights. The two communities argue that they’re marginalized and excluded from the government, which is controlled by members of the Tigrayan ethnic group, who represent only 6 percent of the country’s population.
Human Rights Watch has also condemned the government’s treatment of the media and right’s groups, alleging that harassment, surveillance, and criminal charges are the repercussions for criticizing the country’s ruling party, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF).
“The world should be carefully watching what is happening in Ethiopia,” said Senior Africa Researcher at Human Rights Watch Felix Horne.
“As more and more people are killed in protests this year, the government should urgently change course to prevent more bloodshed,” he added.
The 2016 African Economic Outlook report cites Ethiopia as among the fastest growing world economies in the last decade. It is expected to have a gross domestic product of $69.21 billion this year, up from $61.62 billion in 2015. However, in light of the recent protests and actions taken by the Ethiopian governments, such projections may fall short as investors move their money to more stable economies.