Iran Press TV

Ethiopia PM vows reforms amid bloody unrest

Iran Press TV

Wed Oct 12, 2016 9:29AM

Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn says his government wants to reform the electoral system following months of bloody protests.

He made the announcement as he met German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Addis Ababa on Tuesday, just days after declaring a six-month state of emergency in the face of unrest.

At a press conference with Merkel, the Ethiopian premier also admitted for the first time that the death toll from 11 months of anti-government protests might have exceeded 500.

The ruling coalition has been in power for 25 years and controls every seat in parliament. Its authoritarian approach to governing has been blamed for growing discontent across the country.

Under Ethiopia's current system, Hailemariam's ruling coalition took every one of the 546 seats in parliament during last year's election.

"We want to reform the electoral system so the voices of those who are not represented can also be heard in the parliament," he said on Tuesday.

Hailemariam, however, warned that so-called "extremist violent groups" would be dealt with forcefully.

The opposition viewed the PM's remarks with skepticism. Chairman of the opposition Oromo Federal Congress Merera Gudina said the promises are "too little, too late."

"We have been demanding this for several years. They are always promising things for the consumption of the international community, but it's never implemented," he said.

He said the people "want fundamental changes: a transitional unity government where all stakeholders will be included."

Merkel, on a three-nation Africa tour aimed at stemming the flow of refugees to Europe and fighting terrorism, urged the Ethiopian prime minister to initiate "open talks" with the opposition.

Since the state of emergency was announced on Sunday, Ethiopia has restricted access to internet which is used by its citizens to hold regular anti-government protests.

Protesters have turned their anger against foreign-owned companies, torching several farms, factories and tourist lodges in the past week.

In the latest surge of violence, police fired tear gas at protesters attending a religious festival on October 2, sparking panic in a massive crowd and triggering a stampede that left over 50 dead.

The violence, which first began in November 2015, threatens Ethiopia's reputation as an oasis of political stability and a magnet for foreign investment, as well as its double-digit growth.

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