The government of Ethiopia's Amhara region has denied that a strike is taking place in the northern city of Gondar in response to a state of emergency declared earlier in October. Nigusu Tilahun, head of communications for the Amhara state, told IBTimes UK the situation in Gondar was calm and activities had not been disrupted.
He made the claim one day after the independent website ESAT, banned under the state of emergency, reported that Gondar citizens had started a three-day strike and schools, businesses and transportation had been shut since Monday 17 October.
Organisers told ESAT the strike also aimed to shed light on the recent massacres and alleged human rights violations being perpetrated across Ethiopia, mainly in Amhara and Oromo regions.
The website further claimed that residents continued to strike, "despite presence of heavy security that threatens residents to stop the strikes and forcefully open businesses."
Tilahun has dismissed the claims. "The information is totally false. There is not strike in Gondar and people are engaged in their daily activities," he told IBTimes UK.
"You can check from any resident living in Gondar right now, all activities are ongoing. I don't know why people are claiming that there is a strike, these are 100% lies."
Ethiopia declared the state of emergency, supposed to last for six months, following months of anti-government protests in Oromia and occasionally in Amhara.
Members of the opposition, activists and rights groups repeatedly claimed protests have resulted in the death of more than 500 people since November 2015.
Protests in Oromia and Amhara have been labelled as the biggest anti-government unrest Ethiopia has witnessed in recent history.
Dialogue to solve problems
Gondar and Bahir Dar were rocked by anti-government protests in August, when members of the Welkait Tegede, who identify themselves as ethnically Amhara – Ethiopia's second largest group – demanded their lands be administered by the Amhara region, instead of the Tigray state.
Clashes with police during the demonstration resulted in the death of at least 100 people, according to right groups.
Tilahun explained that, following the unrest, the government and civilians in Amhara have been engaging in talks.
"The government has been having extensive conversations with residents here in Gondar. People understood that properties were damaged and conflicts arose because of misunderstanding," he said. "There has been an agreement to solve problems through discussions."
Tilahun added that external forces both "within and outside Ethiopia" fomented the riots and used people's grievances to "get the government and the people in conflict."
His statement echoes the Ethiopian government's claim, earlier in October, that forces from Eritrea and Egypt fomented the protests to destabilise the country.
Government's position on protests
The opposition and activists have claimed the state of emergency aims to quell ongoing anti-government protests.
However, the government said in several statements that it will be used to coordinate security forces against "anti-peace elements".
"The State of Emergency is to ensure stability and a full return to normality. The context, and one of the main problems in all this, is lack of jobs for disaffected youths," a spokesperson for the Ethiopian embassy in London told IBTimes UK.
"The government and private sector are re-doubling efforts to increase the number of jobs in the coming months and years. The government has allotted a 10 billon Birr (£369m; $449m) rolling fund for this purpose and has revised its youth package."
On 11 October, Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn admitted the death toll could be higher than 500 since protests started in November 2015. However, he denied security forces had reacted disproportionately and security forces intervened to quell violence carried out by "anti-peace" instigators.
Authorities also dismissed allegations of violence contained in previous reports with an official telling IBTimes UK the claims were "abysmal propaganda".