Obama urges Ethiopia to curb crackdowns on media, opposition

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ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia -(AP) President Barack Obama urged Ethiopia’s leaders Monday to curb crackdowns on press freedom and political openness as he opened a trip that human rights groups say legitimizes an oppressive government.

“When all voices are being heard, when people know they are being included in the political process, that makes a country more successful,” Obama said during a joint news conference with Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn.

Obama’s trip marks the first visit by a sitting U.S. president to Ethiopia, a fast-growing economy once defined by poverty and famine.

Despite Ethiopia’s progress, there are deep concerns about political freedoms on the heels of May elections in which the ruling party won every seat in parliament.

Obama said he was frank in his discussions with Ethiopian leaders about the need to allow political opponents to operate freely. He also defended his decision to travel to the East African nation, comparing it to U.S. engagement with China, another nation with a poor human rights record.

“Nobody questions our need to engage with large countries where we may have differences on these issues,” he said. “That’s true with Africa as well.”

Ethiopia’s prime minister defended his country’s commitment to democracy.

“Our commitment to democracy is real — not skin deep,” he said.

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