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XINHUA NEWS SERVICE REPORTS FROM THE AFRICAN CONTINENT

 
Ethiopia releases an unprecedented 8,875
prisoners as a goodwill New Year gesture

ADDIS ABABA Ethiopia (Xinhua) -- The Ethiopian government announced on Tuesday it has released an unprecedented 8,875 prisoners as part of a goodwill Ethiopian New Year gesture.

The Ethiopian New Year, or Enkutatash in Amharic language, falls on September 11 (or September 12 during a leap year), as the East African nation uses calendar that counts its year seven to eight years behind the Gregorian calendar. Presently the country is celebrating the arrival of 2011, which commenced on September 11.

The prisoners were released from prisons located in Amhara, Oromia, Benishangul Gumuz and Gambella regional states and are part of the Ethiopian government strategy of fostering peace and reconciliation in the country, reported state media outlet Ethiopia Broadcasting Corporation (EBC).

The released prisoners are expected to re-join their families and re-integrate into the wider society, with the hope they become productive and law abiding citizens of Ethiopia.

The mass prisoner releases have included members of various rebel groups who had been jailed on offences ranging from membership in previously banned organizations to committing high treason.

The mass prisoner releases timed to coincide with the Ethiopian New Year 2011 are part of the Ethiopian government’s call for unity and peace among the country’s estimated 100 million population.

In a televised statement at the eve of Ethiopian New Year, Ethiopian President Mulatu Teshome, urged Ethiopians to uphold unity and abstain from destructive acts during the 2011 Ethiopian New Year.

Noting the release of thousands of prisoners, return of various high-profile Ethiopian opposition figures, activists and government critics from exile after agreements with the Ethiopian government during the past four months period, Teshome also called for building the nation together.

The Ethiopian 2011 comes as Ethiopia is seeming to come out of almost three years of political turmoil following the coming of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed to the east African country’s leadership. Ahmed assumed office in April.

Ahmed, in his New Year eve remarks to the Ethiopian people, also echoed the president’s message, saying that “Ethiopia is a country we share, and we have to work for peaceful co-existence and prosperity.”

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UPDATE:

Ethiopian PM urges calm as clashes over controversial flag flare in Addis Ababa

ADDIS ABABA Ethiopia (Xinhua) -- Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed called for calm on Thursday as clashes over the hoisting of a controversial flag in the capital, Addis Ababa, left several people injured.

The disturbances, which started on Wednesday and continued through Thursday, occurred when supporters of a previously banned rebel group, Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), who mostly came from ethnic Oromo villages surrounding Addis Ababa and beyond, entered the city waving OLF flags.

This gesture angered some residents of Addis Ababa, who clashed with the OLF supporters, with both sides using sticks and stones against each other.

Many ethnic Oromos, who make up about a third of Ethiopia’s estimated 100 million people, see OLF and the flag as resistance against decades of discriminatory practices of non-Oromo elites based in Addis Ababa.

Many non-ethnic Oromos, how ever, believe the OLF and its flag symbolize a desire to split Ethiopia’s largest region Oromia from the rest of Ethiopia.

Speaking to state media outlets, Ahmed said Ethiopians should have the right to freedom of expression, including holding flags of their own liking.

“There will be no single winner when Ethiopians fight over flags or other controversial issues,” he said. “We should cooperate each other by resolving our differences through dialogue.”

Ahmed warned that unspecified “forces” want to incite violence under the guise of the flag controversy.

The government will not tolerate such provocations, the prime minister said, urging people to refrain from acts that can incite violence.

Ethiopia Federal Police Commissioner Zeynu Jemal also called on citizens to respect each other’s freedom of expression, including holding and waving flags of their own choice.

However, Jemal warned, police would not tolerate acts of vandalism such as graffiti-painting over public spaces. He urged all involved to refrain from such illegal acts.

Once designated as a terror group, the OLF was delisted earlier this month as part of political reforms undertaken by the Ahmed administration, which assumed office in April.

           

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