ADDIS ABABA, March 2 (Reuters) – Ethiopia’s parliament ratified on Friday a state of emergency imposed after the prime minister announced his resignation, though votes against the bill exposed rifts within the ruling coalition.
The emergency bans protests and restricts publications that could be deemed to incite violence. It was imposed on Feb. 16, a day after Hailemariam Desalegn announced his surprise resignation.
The resignation was unprecedented in Ethiopia’s modern history. It followed several years of unrest that broke out in 2015 over land rights before broadening into demonstrations over political and human rights.
Ethiopia is East Africa’s biggest and fastest-growing economy and a Western ally in the fight against Islamist militancy. But rights groups criticise the government for mass arrests and long jail terms handed to political opponents and journalists.
The parliament’s approval of emergency rule was expected. The ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front coalition, comprised of four region-based parties, controls all 457 seats.
“We have reached a stage where, in a country with laws, all sorts of illegal acts including land seizure were being committed unabated,” said Getachew Ambaye, the attorney general.“Emergency rule became necessary for stability.”
The House of People’s Representatives cut short a weeks-long recess to hold an emergency session and 395 lawmakers out of 490 present voted in favour of the bill.
But the number of votes that went against the legislation – 88 legislators rejected it and 7 abstained – underscored frictions within the ruling party.
The government has struggled to placate simmering anger among the country’s two largest ethnic groups, the Oromo and Amhara, who complain that they are under-represented in the country’s corridors of power.
Oromos have claimed that have marginal influence in the ruling coalition, which they say is dominated by the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front party from the northern Tigray region.
The prime minister’s resignation came after two years of anti-government protests in which security forces killed hundreds of people in Oromiya province, the country’s most populous region.
Since January, the government has tried to ease tensions by releasing more than 6,000 prisoners as it struggles to calm discontent. Many were detained during the mass protests; some were charged with terrorism offences.
Some Oromo legislators who voted against the emergency rule bill sought clarifications on its implementation, saying human rights violations could take place.
The ruling coalition’s council is expected to announce Hailemariam’s successor next week following a vote. (Reporting by Aaron Maasho Editing by Maggie Fick and Matthew Mpoke Bigg)