Once-banned group returns
Hundreds of thousands cheer country’s move to widen political space
ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia — Hundreds of thousands of Ethiopians gathered on Saturday to welcome returning leaders of the once-banned Oromo Liberation Front amid sweeping reforms to bring opposition groups back into politics.
The front and two other organizations were removed from a list of terrorist groups earlier this year after Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed took office. He invited them to return to Ethiopia as he vowed to widen the political space in a country where the ruling coalition, in power since 1991, and affiliated parties hold every seat in parliament.
Earlier Saturday, some 1,500 front fighters returned to Ethiopia from neighboring Eritrea. Since the 1970s, the group has advocated the “right to national self-determination” for the Oromo people, Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group.
A large concert was held to welcome front leader Dawud Ibsa and others arriving from Eritrea. Events also were held in Oromia, the largest region among Ethiopia’s states.
“I’m happy to be here after 26 years of struggle from outside of Ethiopia,” Ibsa said. “We have been struggling to bring the changes that we are seeing now in Ethiopia. We are now seeing positive signs that include the respect for rule of law. That’s why we came here.” The prime minister’s chief of staff, Fitsum Arega, welcomed the front leaders. “A peaceful contest of ideas will move us from a culture of conflict into a culture of peace,” he said in a Twitter post.
Abiy is the first Oromo politician to become prime minister since the ruling party came to power in 1991. Tensions have dramatically declined as the new government released thousands of prisoners and welcomed opposition voices.
Ethiopia’s Oromo people gathered to celebrate the return of the once-banned rebel group the Oromo Liberation Front on Saturday at Mesquel Square in Addis Ababa.