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US Issues Travel Warning Over Ethiopia Unrest, Foreign-Owned Factories a Target

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Correction: a previous version of this article stated that U.S. citizens could not travel more than 40 km outside of the capital without approval, and it has since been corrected to clarify that the rule applies to U.S. and other foreign diplomats.

The United States government has issued a travel warning for citizens in or bound for Ethiopia since the unrest there hasn’t let up.

Ethiopia declared a state of emergency in the country on Oct. 8, following anti-government protests it couldn’t quell.

Since then, the U.S. Department of State said there have been hundreds of deaths, thousands or arrests, injuries and property damage.

Much of the unrest is taking place in the country’s Oromia region, which includes its capital Addis Ababa, and in the neighboring Amhara region.

“The recent protests in the Oromia and Amhara regions present a critical challenge,” said Tom Malinowski, the Obama Administration’s top official promoting democracy and human rights, in a U.S. Embassy post. “They appear to be a manifestation of Ethiopian citizens’ expectation of more responsive governance and political pluralism, as laid out in their constitution.”

As part of the state of emergency decree, U.S. and other foreign diplomats in Ethiopia aren’t allowed to travel more than 40 kilometers outside of the capital without prior approval (25 miles). Internet, cellular data and phone services have been restricted or cut off altogether throughout the country, and the U.S. Embassy in Ethiopia hasn’t been able to communicate with citizens there.

In its own travel advisory, the State Department said, “Avoid demonstrations and large gatherings, continuously assess your surroundings, and evaluate your personal level of safety. Remember that the government may use force and live fire in response to demonstrations, and that even gatherings intended to be peaceful can be met with a violent response or turn violent without warning. U.S. citizens in Ethiopia should monitor their security situation and have contingency plans in place in case you need to depart suddenly.”

The violence in Ethiopia has extended beyond the streets and into foreign-owned factories.

Earlier this month, an American woman was killed when stones were thrown at the vehicle she traveled in on the outskirts of Addis Ababa, Reuters reported. This came after a stampede during a protest killed at least 55 people.

On the same day, crowds took to Turkish-run textile factory Saygin Dima in the Oromia region, damaging it. One-third of Saygin Dima’s plant in Sebeta was also destroyed by fire. Other factories not producing apparel and textiles have also been damaged.

Roadblocks have also appeared without warning, disrupting road travel across Ethiopia, which could have an effect on orders for export in the landlocked country.

Ethiopia has focused on developing the Oromia region for industry, but locals have said they receive little compensation when the land is grabbed to build the factories, according to Reuters.

The unrest has cast a pall on Ethiopia at a time when the country is trying to generate greater foreign investment, especially in the textile manufacturing sector. The state of emergency decree has been declared for a six-month time frame.

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