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As Ethiopians ready to celebrate their New Year and the Muslim feast of Sacrifice, shops in the town of Burayu are shuttered and streets strangely empty amid fresh anti-government protests.
With New Year festivities set for Sunday and Eid parties scheduled the following day, in any other year Burayu's sheep and cattle market would have been at its busiest this weekend.
But after months of on-off trouble in the central Oromo region -- home to Ethiopia's largest ethnic group -- this small town close to the capital, Addis Ababa, is in virtual lockdown after a call for a general strike against the government's stance on Oromo demands.
Closed shops in Burayu town, about ten kilometres from Addis Ababa in Oromia regional state
"I've never seen the city like this," said a grocer manning one of the few market stalls still open.
"The police came and said we have no right to close our shops and if we close, they'll close us for good."
But despite incessant police patrols up and down the streets, most of the shops have remained shuttered.
"The whole Oromo region is ruled by the military," said 26-year-old Abdisa, who vows while chatting with a couple of friends that his family's small cafe will stay shut until the New Year, as agreed by the shopkeepers.
"This boycott is a way of showing our disagreement with the government," adds Abdisa, who gave no family name.
The lockdown, he says, is a sign of respect for those killed in the Oromo region since November, which rights groups say number in the hundreds.
With security forces readily using live bullets against demonstrators, there have been fewer protests in recent days.
- 'People choice is my choice'
"We don’t want to celebrate the New Year with joy ... They’re killing people with guns. We need the killings to stop," said Falmata, a young university graduate unable to find a job.
And when talk focuses on Ethiopia's last elections in May 2015, when the ruling EPRDF coalition -- in power for a quarter of a century -- won every parliamentary seat, Falmata's anger boils over. "This result is totally false," he says.
It was a government decision a few months later to appropriate Oromo lands for an urban development scheme -- a decision now rescinded -- that raised fears by Oromo farmers of expropriation, triggering months of deadly trouble.
"The plan brought a lot of blood, and that blood started everything"" said Falmata.
"We don’t want this regime to continue, it's ruled by a few people dominated by the TPLF," he added, referring to the Tigray Liberation Front that overthrew Mengistu Haile Mariam's dictatorial regime in 1991 but is now also accused of monopolising political power.
The unrest, the first such protests in a decade, has spread to the northern Amhara region. In August, simultaneous protests took place for the first time in the two regions that together account for 60 percent of the country's people.
The protests were violently suppressed by security forces who opened fire on crowds in several places leaving at least 100 dead, according to rights group Amnesty International.
In Burayu, the main bus station is deserted, with activists stopping all traffic to western Oromo, where the protests have been specially violent.
Civil disobedience appears to be growing in the region, with artists now openly joining the protest movement.
"I am on the side of the people," popular singer Abush Zeleke said on Facebook. "People choice is my choice. I am not going to perform any concert."
Local media says around 20 artists have decided to boycott New Year celebrations on Sunday.
closed shops in Burayu town, about ten kilometres from Addis Ababa in Oromia regional state.Most traders have closed their shops and called for a general strike against the repression of anti-government movement that affects the Oromo region.
Most traders have closed their shops and called for a general strike against the repression of anti-government movement that affects the Oromo region
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Friends, many of you have been asking why we aren't talking about the ongoing reports of violence against and detentions of protesters in Ethiopia. In the last several weeks, Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Tom Malinowski, former Ambassador Haslach, and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power have all publicly called for an end to the violence and for respect for basic constitutional rights to be observed in Ethiopia. Our position has not changed nor has our commitment to helping the people of Ethiopia achieve the prosperous future they deserve. So we continue to provide humanitarian assistance for millions of Ethiopians living on the edge of hunger as well important health and education programs as part of our support for Ethiopia's long-term development goals. All the areas of our support: democratic development, economic growth and resiliency, and regional peace and security are equally important and interdependent. Success in one will not come without progress in the others so we remain committed to advancing all of them.
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Many Ethiopian singers have cancelled their concerts to welcome in Ethiopia’s New Year, which falls this year on 11 September.
Ethiopians will be ushering in 2009 on Sunday as their calendar is more than seven years out of sync with the one used in much of the rest of the world.
But some singers are planning to put a dampener on the celebrations that take place on New Year’s Eve.
They say it would not be good to celebrate when people are mourning those who have died in recent protests.
At least 17 singers have backed out of gigs to be held in various venues in the capital, Addis Ababa, and other cities.
Oromo singer Abush Zeleke was among those who announced their decision on their official Facebook page.
And on Twitter have reacted to the news:
Some Ethiopian musicians who live abroad are following suit.
US-based singer, Abby Lakew, announced she had cancelled all her shows in Dallas, Atlanta, Chicago and Las Vegas:
I do not want to perform on any stage as of right now while my people are dying!!!
I will pray for peace and I believe in one love!!! All people should be treated equally, with the same rights, dignity and human rights.”
There has been an unprecedented wave of protests in Ethiopia in recent months.
Demonstrations began in the Oromia region last November and have spread elsewhere.
And over the weekend at least 23 inmates died in a fire at a prison where anti-government protesters were reportedly being held.
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Robe, more commonly known as Bale Robe , is a town and separate woreda in south-central Ethiopia. Located in the Bale Zone of the Oromia Region, this town has a latitude and longitude of 7°7′N 40°0′E with an elevation of 2,492 metres (8,176 ft) above sea level.
It is located about 430 kilometres by road from Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa
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Andargachew Tsige’s daughter, 9, denied application for judicial review of UK government’s handling of case 33
A British national kidnapped by Ethiopia and held in jail faces an uncertain future after a court ruled that the Foreign Office did not have to intercede on his behalf.
A high court judge denied an application by Andargachew Tsige’s nine-year-old daughter, Menabe, demanding a judicial review of the UK government’s handling of the case.
Tsige, a prominent opposition activist who had been living in Britain for 35 years, was kidnapped at Sana’a airport in Yemen by Ethiopian security agents in 2014, after having been tried and sentenced to death in absentia.
More than two years later, Tsige remains in prison and the UK government has made no public call for his release. The government has merely lobbied for Tsige to get a fair trial and access to a proper defence team. But lawyers acting for Menabe Tsige argued that this approach had proven useless.
Reacting to the ruling on Wednesday, Yemi Hailemariam, Tsige’s partner and the mother of his two children, said: “The judge could clearly see the humanity in the case, but assumed the Foreign and Commonwealth Office must be doing more than just calling for ‘due process’. But there is no evidence for this.
“I’m devastated. Nothing has changed for him. He will remain there. It’s very sad.”
In documents submitted to the court, Menabe’s lawyers stressed the real risks Tsige faced if the government refused to change its approach: “Not least, that [he] will be executed, but even if he is not killed, that he will spend the rest of his life imprisoned.”
Andy Tsige, pictured in 2014 with his family. Photograph: Yemi Hailemariam
The former foreign secretary, Phillip Hammond, argued that calling for Tsige’s released would be “counterproductive, and could affect the government’s ability to progress the case”. In an open letter published last week, the new foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, maintained this position, and reiterated that “Britain does not interfere in the legal systems of other countries by challenging convictions.”
Tsige’s release has been called for by the UN, members of US congress, the European parliament, and various British MPs, as international concern mounts over rising repression in Ethiopia.
Tsige is secretary general of an exiled Ethiopian opposition movement, Ginbot 7. He fled the country in the 1970s, after his brother was murdered, and settled in the UK in 1979. The Ethiopian government has accused him of “terrorism”. Hailemariam and her children have received no written assurances that the government will not uphold the death penalty and execute Tsige.
Maya Foa, head of the death penalty team at Reprieve, said in other cases of British nationals kidnapped or detained abroad, most recently in the arrest of Lee Bo, a bookseller living in Hong Kong who was seized by Chinese authorities, the government did release statements calling for his release.
She added that international pressure has proven successful in prompting the release of political prisoners in Ethiopia. In July last year, the charges against a group of young journalists, known as the Zone9 bloggers, were dropped and they were released from the infamous Kality prison, where Tsige is also being held, ahead of a state visit by President Obama. Press freedom observers speculated that it was the presence of such a high-profile politician that had forced the government to change its position.
Speaking after the ruling, Foa said: “Over two years into this British father’s ordeal, it’s deeply concerning that the Foreign Office has not asked for his release – and today’s ruling comes as another blow to his desperate family. One thing remains clear – the FCO urgently needs to change its strategy, so that Andy can return to his family in London.”
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No monies from the EU’s flagship Emergency Trust Fund (ETF) for Africa goes to the Ethiopian government or its agencies, the Commission stressed yesterday (6 September), as human rights groups say more than 400 people have been killed in clashes with the government. The ETF was set up last year, at the Valleta migration summit, in an attempt to mitigate the ‘pull’ factors behind uncontrolled migration from sub-Saharan Africa to Europe, in the wake of the migration crisis. Ethiopia, with a stable and West-friendly government in the Horn of Africa, is one of the major recipients of the trust fund, which aims to improve life chances and livelihoods in some of the world’s poorest countries.
However, the authoritarian government in Addis Ababa has long been the butt of accusations over its treatment of the Oromia people and their region – which surrounds the capital. Since November 2015 – when Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker signed the ETF – some 400 people have been killed by Ethiopian government security forces during protests, according to New York-based Human Rights Watch.
This week, the situation deteriorated further, with the deaths of at least 23 inmates in a fire at a prison believed to be holding detained protestors. Pictures showed smoke billowing from the jail, but the BBC cited local media reporting the sound of gunfire from the Qilinto prison. Pressed by EurActiv.com on whether the Commission had a view on the unrest in one of its key partners in sub-Saharan Africa, and whether the ETF contained a mechanism for either reviewing or even suspending payments through the Emergency Trust Fund, a spokesman was quick to point out that no monies were channelled directly through the government in Addis Ababa, or any government agencies. In an emailed statement later, it added, “As far as the Emergency Trust Fund for Africa is concerned, it is important to know that no funding are decentralised to, or channelled through, the beneficiary countries’ government structures.
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