Top Ethiopian dissident Bekele Gerba was released from jail on Tuesday, state media reported, as anti-government protests by the country’s largest ethnic group closed roads and businesses near the capital.
The release of Bekele was a key demand of Oromos, the majority ethnic group, whose protests led to a national emergency being declared two years ago.
The attorney general earlier said charges against Bekele would be dropped. Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn had also said some jailed politicians would be released.
“Bekele Gerba and other six suspects have been released from prison today,” the state-affiliated Fana Broadcasting Corporate reported.
An academic and a deputy leader of the opposition Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC), Bekele was arrested shortly after anti-government protests started in December 2015.
That unrest, which was sparked by a government proposal to expand the borders of the capital Addis Ababa into the Oromo federal region Oromia, led to hundreds of deaths and tens of thousands of arrests.
A 10-month state of emergency declared in October 2016 quelled the worst of the violence but periodic uprisings still occur.
Disenchanted young men wielding sticks and rocks meanwhile blocked roads and businesses stayed shuttered in Addis Ababa and Oromia on Tuesday, the second day of a three day-strike.
“Our struggle will continue because the government is not treating us very well,” said a protester in the town of Alem Gena west of the capital.
Ethiopia is one of Africa’s poorest countries and despite years of rapid economic growth unemployment is rampant.
Some protesters said they were jobless and had no choice but to stand up to a government that wasn’t providing for them.
“All of the students, when they graduate university, simply… no work,” unemployed geologist Shasho Woyessa said near a roadblock in the town of Burayu.
“I’m simply sitting for three years.”