January 15, 2019 / 9:02 PM / a month ago

Ethiopia protesters end blockade of main highway to sea

ADDIS ABABA, Jan 15 (Reuters) - Protesters in Ethiopia’s northeastern Afar region have ended a blockade of the landlocked country’s main route to the sea that was imposed on Sunday to demonstrate against surging ethnic violence, police and organisers said on Tuesday.

Ethiopia has been gripped by ethnic violence since last year, which resulted in the displacement of nearly 3 million people.

Critics of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who took office in April, say his political reforms have allowed dormant ethnic rivalries to resurface in Africa’s second most populous nation.

The blockade of the highway linking Ethiopia and Djibouti followed the latest deadly clashes between ethnic Afars and Issa Somalis, who are a minority in the area, which broke out in December. Locals say dozens have been killed.

Afar elders said the attacks were an attempt to tear areas inhabited by Issas away from the region. An Afar rebel group said the attacks were supported by ethnic Somalis from Djibouti and Somalia.

Protesters were demonstrating against violence and a government order for local militias to pull out from disputed areas and be replaced by federal soldiers.

“The region’s leadership, local elders held discussions that resulted in a solution and the end of the blockade,” federal police spokesman Jeylan Abdi told reporters. A witness in the area confirmed the measure.

Djibouti handles roughly 95 percent of all inbound trade for Ethiopia, a nation of 105 million and an economic power in East Africa. (Reporting by Aaron Maasho Editing by Gareth Jones)

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