Ethiopia's top opposition figure and hundreds of others were released from prison on Wednesday as part of the government's recent pledge to free detained politicians and "widen the democratic space for all" after the worst anti-government protests in a quarter-century.
Merera Gudina led the Oromo Federalist Congress party and was arrested a year ago under the country's state of emergency after he returned from Europe, where he had briefed lawmakers on widespread and sometimes deadly anti-government protests in the East African nation.
Merera was released along with 115 others from a federal prison on the outskirts of the capital, Addis Ababa. He was met by thousands of youths in his adopted hometown of Burayu outside the capital, with some chanting anti-government slogans.
"If the government is genuine about dialogue, then we will consider it," Merera told The Associated Press.
Another 361 detainees were freed Wednesday across southern Ethiopia, and several hundred others across the country are expected to be released in the coming months.
The releases come after Prime Minster Hailemariam Desalegn's surprise announcement earlier this month that the government planned to release imprisoned politicians and close the notorious Maekelawi prison camp.
His comments came after the most serious anti-government protests since the current government came to power in 1991. The demonstrations demanding wider freedoms began in late 2015 and engulfed much of the restive Oromia and Amhara regions before spreading into other parts of the country, leading to a months-long state of emergency that has since been lifted.