- Associated Press - Tuesday, October 11, 2016

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AP) - German Chancellor Angela Merkel signaled support for protesters demanding wider freedoms in Ethiopia during a visit to the country on Tuesday, saying “a vibrant civil society is part and parcel of a developing country.”

Merkel’s meeting with Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn focused on the country’s newly declared state of emergency and other issues including migration.

Following the meeting, Merkel said Germany has offered to train Ethiopian police to deal with the demonstrations that have caused this East African country, one of Africa’s best-performing economies, to declare its first state of emergency in 25 years.

“We are already working in Oromia to de-escalate the situation there by offering mediation between groups,” she said.

“I would always argue for allowing people of a different political opinion … to engage with them and allow them to express their views because, after all, a democratic experience shows that out of these discussions good solutions usually come,” Merkel said.

The Ethiopian prime minister responded to Merkel by suggesting his government may increase dialogue. “We have shortcomings in our fledgling democracy, so we want to go further in opening up the political space and engagement with different groups of the society,” he said.

Ethiopia has a huge youth (population) and an employment problem which has created dissatisfaction and desperation from our young population,” said Hailemariam. “That has created unrest in the country and we need to work very hard both domestically and also with our partners to bring about a decent job (market).”

In other comments, Merkel said the German business community has criticized the business climate in Ethiopia and added she hopes the Ethiopian government will discuss the criticism openly.

Merkel’s African tour, with stops earlier this week in Mali and Niger, highlights the global migration crisis and security issues. Ethiopia is one of the world’s largest hosts of refugees, with hundreds of thousands arriving from nearby Somalia, South Sudan and elsewhere.

The Ethiopian leader appealed for German support to help the refugees. “Ethiopia is one of the global hosts of refugees … the first in Africa, with 780,000 refugees here. I think Germany can support us on this,” Hailemariam said.

Merkel also inaugurated the new African Union Peace and Security Council building that was constructed in Addis Ababa with German funding of 27 million euros.

The head of the continental body’s Peace and Security Council, Ismael Chergui, said during the inauguration ceremony that the new building will provide a base for the operation of a continental early warning system and the coordination of peacekeeping missions.

The Ethiopian government declared a state of emergency Sunday, faced with widespread anti-government protests. More than 50 people died last week in a stampede after police tried to disperse protesters. The incident set off a week of demonstrations in other parts of the country. One American was killed in a rock attack.

At least 400 people have been killed in anti-government protests over the past year, according to human rights groups and opposition activists. The protesters demand more freedoms from the government accused of being increasingly authoritarian.

On Monday, a day after the government declared the six-month state of emergency, Ethiopia’s president announced during a Parliament session that the country’s election law would be amended to accommodate more political parties and opposing views.

But the country’s internet service continues to be largely blacked out after last week’s unrest, which included the targeting and burning of both foreign and local businesses over suspected ties to the government.

The United States and others have called on the government to use restraint against protesters, and the U.N. human rights office has asked for access to allow independent observers into the troubled Oromia region.

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