The United States warned its African ally Ethiopia on Tuesday not to abuse the state of emergency it declared this week to suppress dissent and welcomed talk of political reform.
Ethiopia declared an emergency on Sunday after six months of anti-government protests, but on Tuesday Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn promised that opposition voices would be heard.
US State Department spokesman John Kirby welcomed this offer from the government “to address some of the grievances raised by protesters such as land rights and electoral reform.”
But he urged President Mulatu Teshome’s administration to “clarify” how it intends to implement a state of emergency which authorised “detention without a warrant, limitations on free speech, prohibitions on public gatherings and the imposition of curfews.”
“Even if these measures are intended to restore order, silencing independent voices and interfering with the rights of Ethiopians is a self-defeating tactic that exacerbates rather than address those grievances,” he argued.
Ethiopia is facing its biggest anti-government unrest in a decade, with unrest among the majority Oromo and Amhara ethnic groups which feel marginalised by a minority-led government.
Tensions have been rising since an Oromo religious festival last week ended in tragedy when police fired tear gas on protesters, triggering a stampede that left more than 50 dead.
The declaration of a six-month state of emergency is unprecedented in the 25 years the current Ethiopian government has been in charge.
The United States regards Ethiopia as its key partner in the Horn of Africa, and works with it in its efforts to resolve crises in neighbouring South Sudan and Somalia.