Ethiopian Prime Minister got down and did push-ups with dozens of elite soldiers who had descended on his office during an ongoing protest against low pay.
The protests by Ethiopian soldiers and going to the prime minister’s office triggered an internet blackout in Addis Ababa that was lifted Thursday.
But in an unusual break with discipline, a group of “disgruntled” elite soldiers, who had been sent to quell bloody ethnic clashes on the capital’s outskirts, marched on Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed to protest their low pay, state-run Ethiopia News Agency (ENA) reported.
“Members of the army claimed that officers at various levels could not address their grievances about the low allowances and benefits they receive,” ENA said, adding they had gone “to appeal to Abiy Ahmed” directly.
The internet was shut down across Addis Ababa for hours after the troops, who appeared unarmed, arrived at Mr. Abiy’s compound close to parliament in the city center.
Mr. Abiy’s chief of staff Fitsum Arega said the prime minister “listened to the grievances carefully, reprimanded them for the wrong procedure they followed to express those grievances, but concluded the meeting with a promise to meet properly in the near future.”
Photos circulating on social media showed Mr. Abiy doing push-ups with the smiling troops. His intervention seems to have diffused the tensions as the videos show smiling soldiers in military fatigues fanned out in front of the prime minister following his lead as he does push-ups in his white shirt and suit.
It wasn’t clear the reason for the exercises drill, but the BBC reported that he had instructed them to give him 20 after some soldiers had brought their guns with them to his office.
Picked as prime minister by the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), Mr. Abiy has pursued aggressive reforms since taking office.
The promised changes have been broadly welcomed in the authoritarian state but have failed to defuse escalating ethnic violence in different parts of the country.
Mr. Abiy has replaced the heads of the military and intelligence service and begun a rapprochement with foe Eritrea that has ended decades of conflict between the neighbors.
— Habtamu Seyoum (@habtamu4seyoum) October 10, 2018
However, he has also repeatedly deployed the military to stop ethnic clashes.
The elite, red beret-wearing troops were deployed in southern Ethiopia in August following clashes between the largest ethnicity, the Oromos, and the Gedeo ethnic minority, which have displaced nearly one million people.
ENA says the soldiers involved in Wednesday’s incident had been deployed to Burayu, a suburb of Addis Ababa where at least 58 people were killed last month in fighting between the Oromo and other ethnic groups.