Once-banned group re­turns

Hun­dreds of thou­sands cheer coun­try’s move to widen po­lit­i­cal space

The Dallas Morning News - - World - Elias Me­seret, The As­so­ci­ated Press

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.

Michael Tewelde/Agence France-Presse

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.

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