Hailemariam Desalegn
(Photo : World Economic Forum / Wikmedia / CC)
Hailemariam Desalegn at the World Economic Forum on Africa in 2011.

The Ethiopian government has declared a state of emergency after months of anti-government protests in the Oromia region.

"A state of emergency has been declared because the situation posed a threat against the people of the country," Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn said on state-run Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation.

"Vital infrastructure, businesses, health and education centers, as well as government offices and courts have been destroyed," he said.

About 500 people have been killed in protests since last year in Oromia. On October 2, a stampede at a religious festival in Bishoftu near capital Addis Ababa, where people were demonstrating against the government, killed about 55 people.

The stampede was triggered when police opened fire, causing the crowd to panic. As people initially ran for cover, many fell into trenches and lakes. Estimates of the casualties that resulted vary, as the opposition's estimates run higher than the numbers stated by the government.

In the aftermath of the stampede, more people have taken to the streets to protests in the Oromia region. The internet has been blocked in many parts of the country to prevent people from disseminating messages that would incite protests and anti-government violence.

Many of the demonstrations have turned violent in the past when the rioters resorted to burning factories and vehicles. Thousands of people were arrested in recent months for protesting against government policies and human rights abuses.

"We put our citizens' safety first. Besides, we want to put an end to the damage that is being carried out against infrastructure projects, education institutions, health centers, administration and justice buildings," said Desalegn.

"The recent developments in Ethiopia have put the integrity of the nation at risk," he continued. "The state of emergency will not breach basic human rights enshrined under the Ethiopian constitution and won't also affect diplomatic rights listed under the Vienna Convention."

The emergency will be enforced for the next six months, during which the security forces will directly report to the prime minister.