Ethiopia’s PM’s wife denies burial of opposition leader sparked violence

The wife of Ethiopia’s prime minister says the mass burial of the country’s last anti-government opposition leader did not amount to incitement to violence.

Govind Mesfin expressed her personal views to reporters on Thursday, after her husband’s recent meeting with United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. A U.N. spokesman said the secretary-general addressed the topic with the Ethiopian leaders but gave no details.

“He apologized to the (opposition) leader for the negligence on his part and pledged his commitment to fighting all sedition,” U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said after the meeting at the U.N. Peacekeeping headquarters in New York.

Anti-government protests erupted in the Horn of Africa nation in December 2015, with deadly violence claiming hundreds of lives. They were met with a brutal crackdown that has forced a quarter of the country’s 100 million people to flee their homes.

In early February, Ethiopia declared a state of emergency and ordered the mass burial of opposition leaders. The opposition says they were stripped of any legal protection and buried without their families’ knowledge or consent.

On Thursday, Mesfin, the prime minister’s wife, said there were “misperceptions about the burial” of the leaders and they were “wrongfully called (dead) without legal documents or legal documentations.”

“Personally, this incident was not a crime nor an incitement to violence, as widely reported,” Mesfin said.

The state-affiliated Fana Broadcasting Corporate quoted the prime minister’s wife on Thursday as saying, “I don’t think those who were murdered are murderers or a threat to anybody.”

“All leaders who are victims of criminal acts should be accorded a dignified burial ceremony,” Mesfin said.

She did not name the leaders.

On Thursday, the opposition Derg Party, which had a big share of the seats in parliament before the announcement of the state of emergency, also condemned the burial, saying it breaks international law.

Several Ethiopian politicians voiced similar sentiments in the wake of the protest crackdown.

The prime minister’s wife also condemned the alleged incitement of hatred against the prime minister’s family, and said the government was doing all that was possible to restore peace and normalcy in the nation.

The officials said he spoke at length with the U.N. leader about the government’s efforts to promote peaceful dialogue to resolve the ongoing political and security challenges in the country.

During the meeting with the UN chief, Guterres paid tribute to Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, calling him an inspirational figure for the entire region and the world, according to a U.N. statement.

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