Ethiopian medallist a no-show at airport

ADDIS ABABA • Olympic marathon silver medallist Feyisa Lilesa failed to return to Ethiopia on Monday night despite assurances he would not be punished for his Rio protest over political repression in his country.

An AFP journalist at the airport in Addis Ababa said Lilesa was not on board the plane that landed on Monday night carrying Ethiopia's Olympic team.

Ethiopian sports officials congratulated team members but made no mention of Lilesa's silver - one of only eight medals won by Ethiopia - and refused to answer any questions about the athlete.

On Sunday, Lilesa, who came second to Kenyan favourite Eliud Kipchoge in Rio, crossed his arms as he finished the marathon, in a symbolic protest against the repressive Ethiopian regime.

The 26-year-old repeated the gesture during the medal ceremony, telling reporters later that he was afraid to go back to his homeland.

Reports have suggested that the runner may seek political asylum in the United States, but a spokesman for the US State Department refused to talk specifically about the case.

"We would encourage all governments to respect the rights of individuals to peacefully express their opinions," said the spokesman.

AFRAID OF GOING HOME

I don't think that there is any way that he will (go back to Ethiopia).

FEDERICO ROSA, the agent of Feyisa Lilesa, the marathon silver medallist who made two protest gestures in Rio.

Lilesa's agent, Federico Rosa, had earlier told AFP that the runner would not be returning home after staging his protest, despite Ethiopian government assurances given to Lilesa.

"I don't think that there is any way that he will (go back to Ethiopia)," Rosa told AFP on Monday. "There are many people who say that it would not be good for him to go back."

Rosa, who has been the athlete's agent for three years, said he did not know exactly what his client was planning to do next, having stayed on in Rio after the Games.

"I cannot say for sure because I have not spoken to him since just after the race, when we had a very short conversation," Rosa said.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 25, 2016, with the headline 'Ethiopian medallist a no-show at airport'. Print Edition | Subscribe