ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia, Oct. 9 (UPI) -- Ethiopian officials declared a state of emergency and instituted marshal law in response to growing anti-government protests. The declaration was made over the weekend by Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn and his cabinet. It will last six months.
"It may be shortened depending on the improvement on the security front," a senior government official told the Ethiopian paper Addis Fortune.
Over the last several weeks, clashes between police and anti-government protestors have grown increasingly violent, with looting becoming especially prevalent in Oromia Regional State and more recently in the neighboring Southern Regional State.
At least 55 people were killed in violent protests last weekend in the Oromia Region.
Protests have been raging for several months. Hundreds have been killed and thousands more have been arrested.
Though it's not clear what specific powers will be wielded by security forces in the wake of the decree, some believe the declaration will lead to a more aggressive crackdown on dissent.
"The security forces for example will now fall under the prime minister's control specifically," reporter Fahmida Miller told Al Jazeera. "And if we look back over the last year, things like the internet have been blocked to prevent people communicating and allowing these protests to continue."
Protestors mostly consist of the Oromo and Amhara peoples, Ethiopia's two largest ethnic group. What began as anger over government land use has evolved into broader demand for political and economic rights. Protestors want more representation in Addis; critics complain the government's ruling coalition is dominated by the Tigray ethnic group, a group making up just more than 6 percent of the nation's population.
A state of emergency hasn't been declared in the 25 years that the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front has held power.
Though tensions are more settled in the center of Addis, where locals are doing about their daily business, traffic remains limited as protestors continue to block many of the roads leading in and out of the city.