The Ethiopian parliament on Tuesday lifted the state of emergency imposed last November when Tigrayan rebels threatened to advance towards the capital, easing restrictions earlier than expected, the Ethiopian Foreign Ministry said.
The ministry said on Twitter: “Deputies of the People’s Assembly of Ethiopia today agreed to lift the six-month state of emergency.”
The MPs’ vote followed a proposal made by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government last month to ease the state of emergency, which was initially supposed to run until May.
63 out of 312 deputies who attended the session opposed Tuesday’s vote to lift the decree, while 21 others abstained.
A state of emergency was declared on 2 November after fighters from the Tigray People’s Liberation Front captured two important towns 400 kilometers (250 miles) from Addis Ababa.
This action led to mass arrests of ethnic Tigrayans in Addis Ababa and elsewhere, drawing condemnation from rights groups including Amnesty International.
It was not immediately clear if or when the people detained under the emergency decree would be released.
The emergency coincided with a mass mobilization campaign – along with drone strikes – as the Tigray Liberation Front pushed back into Tigray, with the rebels withdrawing in December, raising hopes of an end to the 15-month war.
Addis Ababa has announced that it will not go after the rebels in Tigray, but in recent weeks, residents and aid workers have reported a series of deadly air strikes – including drone strikes – targeting the area.
And the Tigray People’s Liberation Front announced, last month, a military operation in the neighboring Afar region, saying that the move came in response to attacks by pro-government forces, which dampened hopes for a ceasefire.
The aid blockade has left thousands of people dead and forced many more to flee their homes and pushed hundreds of thousands to the brink of starvation, according to the United Nations.
Tigray itself has for months been subject to what the United Nations says is a de facto blockade. The United States accused the Ethiopian government of withholding aid, blaming the rebels for the obstruction.
Foreign envoys are pressing hard for a ceasefire and expanded aid access to conflict-affected areas, while Addis Ababa blames rebel incursions for a shortage of supplies.
US Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa David Satterfield was expected to visit Ethiopia earlier this week to meet with government officials and representatives of humanitarian organizations.
The United Nations said last month that nearly 40 percent of the population of Tigray, a region of six million people, faced “severe food shortages”.
The horrific assessment published by the World Food Program came at a time when humanitarian organizations are increasingly curtailing their activities due to a lack of fuel and supplies.
The World Health Organization on Tuesday called for “unrestricted access” to war-torn Tigray, saying the first delivery of life-saving medical supplies since July last year had been halted due to fuel shortages.
Fighting broke out in Tigray in November 2020 after Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sent troops to oust the Tigray Liberation Front, the region’s former ruling party, saying the move was in response to rebel attacks on army camps.