Major human rights rally in Addis Ababa

A human rights rally in Addis Ababa on 2 June attracted about 10,000 supporters, according to Reuters.

The anti-government demonstration, which had received the go-ahead from authorities, was the first major protest since 2005 when post-election violence led to some 200 deaths and saw many protesters and opposition leaders imprisoned.

The protest was organised by Semayawi – the opposition party commonly known as the “Blue party” – whose chairman Yilekal Getachew told Reuters: "We have repeatedly asked the government to release political leaders, journalists and those who asked the government not to intervene in religious affairs".

The rally's route began in the capital's northern Arat Kilo and Piazza districts before converging at the main thoroughfare Churchill Avenue. The protesters pledged to organise more protests in three months’ time if the government did not take measures to improve human rights and tackle unemployment, inflation and corruption.

The government faces regular criticism from opposition parties which accuse it of harassment, while its controversial 2009 anti-terrorism law is widely condemned by human rights watchdogs which claim it is used to silence the media.

The rally on 3 June was one of the biggest since the death of Meles Zenawi, the strongman prime minister who led Ethiopia from 1995 until his death last August.

Meles – who cracked down on all opposition to his rule, stamped out protests and imprisoned opponents – was succeeded by his deputy prime minister Hailemariam Desalegn.

Following Hailemariam's inauguration last September, European parliament president Martin Schulz said the new Ethiopian leader had a clear desire "to strengthen democracy in the country, allowing for greater pluralism and a freer civil society, to uphold the freedoms enshrined in the Ethiopian constitution."

In April, following a visit to European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso in Brussels, Hailemariam told journalists: "Democracy and observation of human rights is an ... existential issue for Ethiopia. It is not a choice. You have to differentiate between observing human rights and also keeping the rule of law."

In late 2012 the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported “thousands” of anti-government protests by Ethiopian Muslims angry over “interference” in religious affairs by the state. The government responded by labelling the protesters “extremists”.

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