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Ethiopia pledges safe return for protest runner

2016-08-23 09:46
Feyisa Lilesa (Getty Images)

Addis Ababa - Ethiopia's government vowed that Olympic marathon silver medallist Feyisa Lilesa had nothing to fear upon returning home after staging a dramatic protest against the country's politics, state-controlled Fana radio reported on Monday.

On Sunday, Lilesa, who came second to Kenyan favourite Eliud Kipchoge in Rio, crossed his arms as he finished the marathon in protest against the Ethiopian government's crackdown on political dissent.

He repeated the gesture during the race's medal ceremony, saying he was afraid to go back to his homeland following his protest "against the government's attitude regarding Oromo people", one of two main ethnic groups in Ethiopia.

"Lelisa won't face any problem due to his political stance," government spokesman Getachew Reda told Fana.

"Though it is impossible to express a political stance at Olympic Games, the athlete will be welcomed while returning home along with other members of the Ethiopian Olympic squad," he added.

Human rights groups say that Ethiopian security forces have killed scores of people in recent weeks as authorities crack down on a wave of anti-government unrest in two key regions, central-western Oromia and Amhara in the north.

"I have relatives in prison back home," Lilesa said after Sunday's marathon in Rio.

"If you talk about democracy they kill you. If I go back to Ethiopia maybe they will kill me, or put me in prison.

"It is very dangerous in my country. Maybe I have to go to another country. I was protesting for people everywhere who have no freedom."

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