CORRECTS – Ethiopia: Govt launches stabilization in Oromia

                                               CORRECTS NAME OF SPOKESWOMAN, NATURE OF GOVERNMENT ACTION IN OROMIA; REVISED HEADLINE, DECK, LEDE

By Addis Getachew

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AA) – Ethiopia's government on Wednesday confirmed it had launched a “stabilization campaign" in the Western Wollega zone, in the country’s western Oromia regional state.

Speaking to foreign media, government spokeswoman Belene Seyoum denied that the government had launched airstrikes against bases of the forces known as OLF-Shene, one of five offshoots of the Oromia Liberation Front.

“There are some elements that are not heeding the call for peace,” she said, adding there have been abuses of residents and robberies and beatings in areas where “the anti-peace” elements operate.

The OLF splinter group led by Dawud Ibssa, one of the five bearing the name, came back from Eritrea from where they had been fighting the government after a controversial deal struck in the capital Asmara last August.

The army wing of the OLF-Shene has been launching attacks against the government ever since in the Western Wollega zone in Oromia.

“The government is responsible for ensuring that there will not be obstacles to peace and security,” said Seyoum.

“In the Guji zone an OLF faction heeded the call of the government and laid down their arms,” she said, adding that the government is focusing on dialogue.

Ethiopia: 15 arrested for links to assassination group

             By Addis Getachew</p>    <p>ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AA) - Ethiopian authorities arrested 15 suspects for their alleged links to a clandestine group carrying out high-profile assassinations in Oromia region, security officials said on Monday.</p>    <p>According to the communication bureau in Oromia, the largest and most populous region in central Ethiopia, the suspects were identified as the members of Aba Torbe, a hit-and-run group.</p>    <p>“They were arrested in a joint operation carried out by the National Intelligence and Security Service and security officials,” Fana Broadcasting Corporate, the local media outlet, quoted the bureau as saying in a statement.</p>    <p>According to the statement, the group has been engaged in assassinating government officials and members of security forces.</p>    <p>Among the suspects were Gadisa Negasa Chala, Merga Tefera Bulchu and Anisa Getachew -- who were accused of coordinating the killings of civilians in Dembidolo, Nekempt and North Shoa zone in the region.</p>    <p>The suspects were arrested in the capital Addis Ababa, where they were plotting assassination of senior government officials, prominent individuals and activists.</p>    <p>Security forces also seized numerous pistols, hand grenades and weapons in the operation.</p>    <p>The arrests came just a day after Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed inaugurated a special army group named “the Republican Guard” -- a highly-trained, multi-task soldiers that prevent senior government officials from assassination attempts and protect their families from possible abductions.

Turkish surgeons restore sight to 420 Ethiopians

By Addis Getachew and Tufan Aktas

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AA) – A Turkish charity has given new hope to some residents of Gelemso town in eastern Ethiopia by bringing in ophthalmic surgeons who have helped hundreds of them see again.

“All 420 cataract patients have now regained full sight,” Haci Dursun Tunc, a member of the Sadakatasi Association’s board of directors, told Anadolu Agency.

“The association has conducted operations on patients in different parts of Africa and Asia, where a great number of people suffer from cataracts due to a lack of hygiene and other infections,” Tunc said.

He said the cataract operations have been conducted in cooperation with Gelemso Hospital, where many people, especially farmer families, needed the service.

The Turkish team of surgeons under the association have been providing cataract surgery services for free in Ethiopia, Pakistan and Somali, Tunc said.

“We operated on 700 cataract patients in Ethiopia before the latest ones.

“Words cannot express my happiness to see people blinded due to preventable causes see the world again,” he added.

The town of Gelemso is located in the Western Hararghe Zone of Oromia regional state. Ahmed Mohammed, head of the Western Hararghe Zone Health Bureau, who visited Gelemso Hospital, said he was very grateful and wanted to carry out joint projects in the near future with the association.

The Sadakatasi Association was established in 2010 and strives to help the needy in poor countries.

According to the World Health Organization, cataracts cause a third of worldwide blindness, affecting approximately 12.6 million people. Cataracts additionally cause moderate to severe vision loss in 52.6 million people, 99% of whom live in developing countries.

In 2016, Turkish Airlines sponsored a team of Turkish surgeons to provide cataract surgery services to more than 1,000 Ethiopians in a weeklong program conducted at the Menelik II Hospital in the capital, Addis Ababa.

Ethiopian team in Kenya to track, help compatriots

By Addis Getachew

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AA) – Ethiopia’s Oromia state said it has dispatched a team to Kenya to track thousands of its compatriots, who are reported to have fled after Ethiopian security forces killed nine civilians and injured 12 others in Moyale town, which borders Kenya.

On Tuesday, the command post set up to oversee the implementation of Feb. 19 State of Emergency said a unit of soldiers acted on incorrect information and killed the civilians “mistakenly” — a claim the mayor of the town contested, saying there were no armed people in the town.

The soldiers involved in the killing were put under custody and an inquiry has been launched, according to the command post.

The Oromia state’s communication bureau told Anadolu Agency that a team was dispatched to track and help the people who fled the area to Kenya.

The Kenyan Red Cross Society in a statement issued on Monday said it had received at least 2,000 Ethiopian asylum seekers following their displacement from Ethiopia.

“The asylum seekers began streaming in on Saturday [and] majority of them [are] women and children,” it said.

It said family kits were immediately released including tarpaulins, kitchen sets, mosquito nets, bar soaps, thermal blankets and jerrycans.

The government of Mersabit county in Kenya has also provided food to the displaced persons, the Kenyan Red Cross Society noted.

The killings in Ethiopia happened as the executive committee of the ruling coalition Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front was about to meet to elect the new prime minister after the incumbent submitted his resignation on Feb. 15.

Ethiopia is broiled in a political turmoil and over the past two years fierce anti-government movements have been witnessed in Oromia and Amhara regions — the first and the second most populous regions respectively accounting for more than 60 percent of Ethiopia’s 100 million population.

*Munira Abdelmenan Awel contributed to this story from Ankara

Ethiopia struggling to resolve Oromia-Somali crisis

By Addis Getachew Tadesse

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AA) – The leaders of eastern Ethiopia’s Oromia and Somali regional states are working jointly to defuse the ongoing conflict in the neighboring border areas of the two regions, a government minister said Friday.

“The defense forces, federal police and the leadership of the two regions are working together towards the same purpose,” Communication Affairs Office Minister Dr. Negeri Lencho told a news conference in capital Addis Ababa.

This is the first news conference given by the government after Monday’s clashes over border disputes between Somali and Oromo nationals left at least 18 dead in Aweday district of eastern zone of the Oromia regional state.

The Oromia State government claims that the clashes followed public anger caused by the torturing to death of two Oromo district officials by Somali security forces on Sunday – an allegation the Somali state government has denied.

Dr. Negeri said that defense forces and federal police members as well as the leadership and security forces of the regions had been deployed to the region to control the situation.

Human rights agents are also monitoring the situation to prevent human rights violations, he said, expressing deep sorrow of the government over loss of lives due to the clashes.

Eyewitnesses in the eastern city of Harar told Anadolu Agency that the city had been engulfed by Oromo nationals evicted from Somali-administered places such as Jijjiga, the capital of the Somali regional state.

Rival ethnic Somali and Oromo armed groups have been engaged in clashes in the bordering areas for months, but the situation has escalated this week, and turned violent with both sides blaming each other for the deadly confrontation.

New tax law triggers protests in Ethiopia’s Oromia

By Addis Getachew

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AA) – Thousands of businesses remained closed Thursday in Oromia, Ethiopia’s largest region, as shopkeepers protested against a new tax.

Small business owners across the region have shuttered their premises since Monday in protest at the tax, which targets businesses with an annual turnover of up to 100,000 Ethiopian birr ($4,300).

However, protesters say the government is overestimating revenue, leading to inflated tax demands.

A grocer who spoke to Anadolu Agency on condition of anonymity for fear of government retribution said his daily sales did not exceed 500 birr ($21) but the government had assessed his revenue at 5,000 birr ($214).

Businesses are taxed between 10 and 30 percent of their net profits.

Oromia, which covers much of central and southern Ethiopia, was at the center of anti-government protests in late 2015 that led to the deaths of 669 protesters across the country.

The country has been under a state of emergency since last October.

Ethiopia, like many other sub-Saharan nations, records relatively low levels of revenue from tax. According to the World Bank, tax revenues made up 15.2 percent of Ethiopian gross domestic product in 2015.

– Misunderstanding

This week’s protests have seen towns across Oromia largely closed for business.

In Ambo, 98 kilometers (60 miles) west of capital Addis Ababa, protesters damaged two state-owned vehicles last week but demonstrations have been otherwise peaceful.

Towns such as Holeta, 30 km (19 miles) west of Addis Ababa, appear deserted. “A coffee vendor like me has been asked to pay 8,000 birr [$344] in taxes,” one woman said.

However, Addisu Arega, a spokesman for the regional government, said business owners had misinterpreted the new tax system.

“People tend to mistake daily income estimation for actual tax expected of them to pay to the government,” he told Anadolu Agency.

“Businesses are required to pay 10-30 percent of net income as tax under the new regulation and that is not too much.”

Government officials have said that businesses in Oromia have been undertaxed for years.

“There are 46,500 businesses that operate without permits,” Arega said. He claimed that tax returns from the region contributed just 17 percent to local revenue and added that the government would address the complaints filed by small businesses.

Ethiopians welcome 2009, prepare for Eid al-Adha

By Sileshi Tessema and Abebech Tamene

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AA) – Ethiopians celebrated their New Year on Sunday, with the country’s Muslim population preparing for the start of the Eid al-Adha festival the following day.

The country welcomed the year 2009 — the Ethiopian Orthodox calendar is nearly seven years behind the Georgian calendar — as families and friends gathered to spend time together eating and drinking.

On Monday, Ethiopian Muslims, who make up around a third of the population, will join the rest of the Islamic world in marking the start of the feast of the sacrifice to commemorate Ibrahim’s willingness to sacrifice his son for Allah.

Due to the lunar calendar of Islam, this is the first time in many people’s lifetimes that Eid al-Adha and New Year have coincided so closely.

However, the double celebration is marred by unrest in the central Oromia and northern Amhara regions in which, according to rights groups, hundreds have been killed by security forces since November.

A hike in the price of meat and livestock has also hit many households preparing for the New Year feast.

Across the capital Addis Ababa, residents dressed in traditional white outfits bought green reeds and yellow daisies to spread on the floors of their homes.

Families sat down to meals of injera, a flat bread made of teff flour, and doro wot chicken stew — a popular meal that is usually rounded off with local coffee.

“New Year brings unique flavor as seasons change and three months of incessant rains give way to sunshine,” mother-of-four Selamawit Getachew said.

Because animals are slaughtered for both festivals, prices have rocketed in recent weeks. Goats and sheep that fetched around $100 last year are being sold for double the price in some towns.

“Prices are high for obvious reasons,” Tamiru Belay, a cattle trader, said. As well as the high demand created by the proximity of the festivals, Belay said road blockages in Oromia had caused a shortage of supply.