Tensions rise as Ethiopia struggles to pick a new leader

Tensions rise as Ethiopia struggles to pick a new leader

Hailemariam Desalegn, long criticized for human rights abuses and attacks on press freedom, is staying on temporarily as prime minister in a caretaker capacity until lawmakers in the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front name a new leader. (Associated Press/File) more >

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia — (washingtontimes)—-When Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn unexpectedly resigned from his position last month, tens of thousands of people flooded the streets of the capital singing, dancing, honking car horns and waving flags to celebrate the end of his autocratic era.

But hopes that a time of economic crisis and political repression was easing may be premature, even as Ethiopia’s neighbors on the tense Horn of Africa wait for what comes next in Addis Ababa.

“We are free,” said Salem Gebre, 30, a street hawker who has led protests in the capital, recalling his jubilation at the time. “He has killed and oppressed many of us. We don’t want him anymore, and we are glad he’s gone.”

More than 1,000 people have died in protests in Ethiopia in the past three years, according to Human Rights Watch and other groups. Disputes over land that arose from urban development around Addis Ababa sparked the first demonstrations. Later, protesters added grievances over political restrictions and other human rights abuses to their list of demands.

As fears mounted that an armed clash or a crackdown was imminent, the government instead began releasing hundreds of political detainees in early February. When those moves failed to quiet the protests, the prime minister unexpectedly said he would step aside.