Ethiopia to release opposition figures

AFP  File  William Davison Oromia is Ethiopia's largest region and the anti-government protests began in November 2015

Desalegn also disclosed the shutting down of the notorious detention center, known as Maekelawi, which had been serving as Ethiopia's main investigation center since the Derg regime.

Prime Minster Hailemariam Desalegn had been speaking in Amharic to local journalists.

The activist was born in Ethiopia but became a British citizen after seeking political asylum in London in 1979, and he has raised a family in the UK.

The move comes in the wake of widespread anti-government protests that engulfed much of the restive Oromia and Amhara regions and other towns and cities.

The government in Addis Ababa has been denying imposing political restrictions.

"The crackdown on the political opposition saw mass arbitrary arrests, torture and other ill-treatment, unfair trials and violations of the rights to freedom of expression and association", rights group Amnesty International has said. Protests continued after the state of emergency was lifted.

Hailemariam made his announcement after the ruling EPRDF coalition concluded a weeks-long meeting meant to thrash out policies to address grievances.

It was not immediately clear how many such prisoners were being held across the country, a close US security ally, or when they would be released.

Rights groups and opposition groups in Ethiopia had been calling for their release, saying they were arrested on trumped-up charges and punished for their points of view. They say the detainees should never have been arrested and are being targeted for their political beliefs.

And in an interview with NPR, Tekle adds that the Ethiopian government is faced with a choice: "My wishful thinking is that there will be reform because through [the] hard way, through crisis and through unrest, the Ethiopian government. has learned that repression is not going to work in Ethiopia".

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