Ethiopia " s Prime Minister, Hailemariam Desalegn, announced today that his government will release all political prisoners and close its Maekelawi detention center in this capital.
For this development, local and foreign business, universities and transport networks came to a standstill in many parts of the country.
Until Wednesday, the Ethiopian government had denied having political prisoners.
Hailemariam promised that Maekelawi will be closed and turned into a museum, and according to the Ethiopian newspaper Addis Standard a new detention center that would meet worldwide standards will be opened. He said he made the decision to allow for political dialogue.
It was not immediately clear how many political prisoners were being held across the country, a close USA security ally.
"I'm writing you this struggling with my tears", wrote renowned blogger and former detainee Befeqadu Hailu.
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Ethiopia's government has attempted to downplay the prime minister's announcement.
Some of the prominent politicians now in custody include opposition leaders Bekele Gerba and Merara Gudina. "We are also calling for investigations into dozens of enforced disappearances that have taken place since 1991 - it is not enough to release some peaceful dissenters while the fate of many others remains unknown".
Hundreds were killed and tens of thousands of people arrested during the protests which began in late 2015.
The Associated Press and other news organizations interpreted the remark to mean a wider population of people in prison, including opposition figures and journalists, as alleged political prisoners.
"Potentially big news", Human Rights Watch researcher Felix Horne said on Twitter after the announcement, as some observers waited to see the government's next move.
Ethiopia's opposition and human rights groups have been accusing the government of violating human rights.