Ethiopia’s parliament has voted for an early end to a six-month state of emergency, declared last November when rebel Tigrayan forces were threatening to march on the capital, Addis Ababa.
The lawmakers’ decision came on Tuesday after cabinet proposals last month about cutting short the emergency measures in light of improving security conditions in the country.
After swift advances in November, most of the rebel forces have retreated to their home region of Tigray, and there are signs of a tentative thaw in relations between the warring sides.
The move was welcomed by the US State Department as an “important step”. It called for the immediate release of all those arrested or detained without charge under the state of emergency.
Parliament’s decision to lift the state of emergency came three weeks after cabinet approval.
Of the 312 lawmakers who attended the session, 63 opposed lifting the state of emergency, while 21 abstained from the vote.
It was not immediately clear whether the state of emergency would be lifted on Tuesday directly following parliament’s vote.
The six-month state of emergency allows, among other things, for roadblocks to be established, transport services to be disrupted, curfews to be imposed, and for the military to take over in certain areas.
Anyone suspected of having links with “terrorist” groups could also be detained without a court warrant, while any citizen who has reached the age of military service could be called to fight.
“Our country is facing a grave danger to its existence, sovereignty, and unity,” Justice Minister Gedion Timothewos told a state media briefing when the emergency measures were declared. “And we can’t dispel this danger through the usual law enforcement systems and procedures.”
The move came after the Tigrayan fighters said they had captured the strategic towns of Dessie and Kombolcha in the Amhara region, and indicated they might advance further south, on the capital of Addis Ababa. Both towns have since returned to government control.
In November 2020, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sent troops into Tigray in response to alleged attacks on army camps by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).
The TPLF said the federal government and its allies, including Eritrea, launched a “coordinated attack” against it.
Abiy promised a swift victory, but by late June, the Tigrayan fighters had regrouped and retaken most of the region. Fighting then spread to the neighbouring regions of Afar and Amhara, before the Tigrayan forces’ retreat to their region in December.
The conflict has triggered a humanitarian crisis that has left hundreds of thousands of people facing famine-like conditions, according to the United Nations. Thousands of people have been killed and more than 2.5 million people forced to flee their homes nationwide since the war began.
Hundreds of mostly ethnic Tigrayans still remain in detention after being apprehended during the state of emergency.