A prominent Ethiopian opposition leader from the country's restive Oromo region has been arrested after he came back from a meeting with members of the European Parliament in Brussels. "Merera arrived in Addis Ababa on Wednesday morning from a trip to Brussels, where he met members of the European Parliament," Gebru Gebremariam, deputy chairman of the Oromo Federalist Congress, told the Reuters news agency. "Police arrested him in his house the same day in the evening. We haven't been given reasons behind his arrest," Gebru added. Ethiopia's state-aligned FBC radio said the Oromo leader was arrested for "trespassing the state of emergency rulings of the country".
The Ethiopian parliament has extended by four months a state of emergency it declared six months ago after almost a year of often violent anti-government demonstrations. The widely expected extension comes amid reports of continued violence and anti-government activities in some rural areas. At least 500 people were killed by security forces during the year of protests, according to New York-based Human Rights Watch group - a figure the government later echoed. "We still have some anti-peace elements that are active and want to capitalise on disputes that arise among regional states in the country," Ethiopia's defence minister, Siraj Fegessa, told MPs when he called on them to approve the extension on Thursday. "In addition, some leaders of the violent acts that we witnessed before are still at large and are disseminating wrong information to incite violence."
At least 21 people have been killed in two days of intense fighting between ethnic groups in southern Ethiopia amid escalating violence that has sent hundreds fleeing across the border to neighbouring Kenya. The violence broke out on Thursday and Friday near the town of Moyale, on the border with Kenya, in a region claimed by both the Oromo, the largest ethnic group in the country, and the Somali ethnic group. The fighting also wounded 61 others, the state-affiliated Fana radio reported, citing the Oromia regional state communication office. Outbreaks of violence in the south between Oromos and other groups escalated since Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed - the first Oromo leader in Ethiopia's modern history - assumed office in April. An internal United Nations report, dated December 13 and reviewed by the Reuters news agency, also confirmed the fighting, with heavy artillery being used, and said there was likelihood the conflict could spill over into Kenya.
Almost 700 people have been killed during violence in Ethiopia since August 2016, a government-sponsored commission has said, bringing the total death toll since the unrest began in late 2015 to more than 900. Ethiopia declared six months of emergency rule in October after almost a year of anti-government violent protests in its Oromia, Amhara and SNNP regions. In March, the measure was extended by four months amid reports of continuing violence in some remote areas. The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission - mandated by parliament to investigate the violence - presented its long-awaited findings on Tuesday. The commission blamed a lot of the violence on opposition groups, saying that security forces in some places had no choice but to respond with lethal force.