ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed met on Wednesday with several hundred soldiers who had marched on his office to demand pay rises and were invited in to see him, his office and state media reported.
Abiy “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 to positively consider their demands”, his chief of staff Fitsum Arega wrote on Twitter late on Wednesday.
State television (ETV) had earlier reported that the meeting had ended with “an agreement”, but did not give details of the outcome. In addition to asking for pay rises, the soldiers asked Abiy to “review the structure and operations of the military”, ETV said.
Speaking to ETV and other state-affiliated media after the meeting, the 42-year-old prime minister did not mention an agreement, but said he had listened to the soldiers.
“Special security forces based around Addis Ababa, who have just returned from duty elsewhere, wanted to meet me,” Abiy told TV cameras, as young-looking men in fatigues and red berets stood behind him, some snapping photos on their mobile phones.
“They said they bled and died for their country but that they were seen as enemy soldiers. They said their salaries and living standards were low. Unless the public supported them, they said they would continue to struggle.”
ETV also reported that the soldiers had been on a mission in Burayu, a town in the Oromiya region that borders the capital Addis Ababa, for the past several weeks following violence along ethnic lines there last month.
The station did not broadcast images of the soldiers marching. Residents reported that the internet was shut off for nearly three hours on Wednesday afternoon. ETV said it had been shut off to prevent fake news circulating on social media.
Abiy, 42, took office in April after several years of unrest forced his predecessor to resign. He has pledged to reform the security forces and promote multi-party democracy.
These changes are a shock to the system in Ethiopia, a country of more than 100 million people that has tolerated little dissent since the ruling EPRDF coalition seized power in 1991.
Writing by Maggie Fick; Editing by Kevin Liffey and Peter Graff