Thousands of protesters have demonstrated in the Ethiopian capital to demand the release of jailed journalists and activists.
Locals estimated the number to be much larger. The demonstration, which receivedwidespread†mainstream media coverage in the U.S., was hailed as the first large-scale protest in the Horn of Africa country since the disputed 2005 election.
Indeed protests are rare in Ethiopia. But while Blue Party’s rally was the first one authorized by the regime since 2005, over the last 18 months, Muslims in Ethiopia have been protesting against government meddling in religious affairs in far greater numbers. In February, Bloomberg’s William Davison†reported†some 90,000 people gathered in Addis Ababa to protest negative portrayals of the Muslim movement in a documentary film produced by the state-run Ethiopian Television (ETV),Jihadawi Harekat.
Protesters on Sunday demanded the immediate release of jailed journalists, Muslim leaders and opposition activists, according to†reports. In a sign of growing mobile and social media influence, citizen journalists fired away up-to-the-minute†tweets, Facebook posts,†images, and uploaded short video†clips†on YouTube. Engineer Yilikal Getnet, chairman of the Blue Party, told†Reuters†the protesters were also concerned about lack of action to tackle soaring unemployment, inflation and corruption.
It is the first major demonstration on the streets of Addis Ababa since 2005 when hundreds of protesters were killed in violence.
Demonstrators shouted slogans calling for freedom and justice.
Ethiopia's governing party, the EPRDF, maintains strict control over public life in the East African country.
The protests were organised by the opposition Semayawi (blue) party.
Party chairman Yilekal Getachew told Reuters that as well as the release of the prisoners, the demonstrators also wanted action on unemployment, inflation and corruption in Ethiopia.
Ethiopia's Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn took office in September 2012 following the death of Meles Zenawi.
The BBC's Africa analyst Richard Hamilton says the fact that the rally was given permission to be held at all, and passed off peacefully, suggests the new prime minister may be more tolerant of dissent than his predecessor.
Human rights groups argue that the Ethiopian government has used a 2009 anti-terrorism law as a pretext to imprison members of the opposition and the press.
The Committee to Protect Journalists says Ethiopia is close to replacing Eritrea as the African country with the most journalists behind bars.