NAIROBI (AFP) - Ethiopia's Parliament on Tuesday (Feb 15) lifted a state of emergency imposed last November when Tigrayan rebels threatened to advance on the capital, the Foreign Ministry said, easing restrictions earlier than expected.
"The House of Peoples' Representatives of #Ethiopia has approved today the lifting of the six-month state of emergency," the ministry said on Twitter.
The vote by lawmakers followed a proposal by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed's Cabinet last month to ease the state of emergency, which was initially supposed to last until May.
Tuesday's vote to lift the decree was opposed by 63 of the 312 lawmakers who attended the session, while 21 others abstained.
The state of emergency was declared on Nov 2 after fighters from the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) seized two crucial towns about 400 kilometres from Addis Ababa.
The measure triggered mass detentions of ethnic Tigrayans in Addis Ababa and elsewhere, sparking 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 state of emergency coincided with a mass mobilisation campaign credited --along with drone strikes - with pushing the TPLF back into Tigray, with the rebels' withdrawal in December raising hopes of an end to the 15-month war.
Addis Ababa announced it would not pursue the rebels into Tigray, but in recent weeks, residents and aid workers have reported a string of deadly air strikes - including drone strikes - targeting the region.
The TPLF last month announced a military operation in the neighbouring Afar region, saying the move was in response to attacks by pro-government forces, dampening hopes of a ceasefire.
The grinding conflict has left thousands dead and forced many others to flee their homes, with hundreds of thousands driven to the brink of starvation, according to the United Nations.
Tigray itself has for months been subject to what the UN says is a de-facto blockade. The United States has accused the Ethiopian government of preventing aid, and it in turn has blamed the rebels for the obstruction.
Foreign envoys have been pushing hard for a ceasefire and expanded aid access to conflict-hit areas, while Addis Ababa blames rebel incursions for the supplies shortage.
The US special envoy for the Horn of Africa David Satterfield was expected to visit Ethiopia earlier this week to meet with government officials as well as representatives of humanitarian organisations.
Nearly 40 per cent of people in Tigray, a region of six million people, face "an extreme lack of food", the UN said last month.
The dire assessment published by the World Food Programme (WFP) came as humanitarian groups increasingly curtail activities because of fuel and supply shortages.
The World Health Organisation on Tuesday called for "unfettered access" into war-wracked Tigray, saying its first delivery of life-saving medical supplies since July last year had stalled due to a lack of fuel.
Fighting broke out in Tigray in November 2020 after Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sent troops to topple the TPLF, the region's former ruling party, saying the move came in response to rebel attacks on army camps.