Ethiopia: Exiled Olympic runner Feyisa Lilesa returns home

Marathoner who sought exile after making protest gesture at 2016 Olympic Games returns amid political reforms at home.

An Ethiopian marathon runner who made global headlines with an
anti-government gesture at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics finish line has
returned from exile.

Feyisa Lilesa's return on Sunday came several months after Prime
Minister Ahmed Abiy took office in the East African nation and announced
sweeping political reforms.

The runner held his arms over his head, wrists crossed, as he finished
second in the 2016 Olympics in solidarity with protesters in his home
region, Oromia.

He sought asylum in the United States, saying he feared he would be imprisoned or killed if he returned home.

On Sunday, Foreign Minister Workneh Gebeyehu received Feyisa at Addis
Ababa's airport, where relatives - clad in traditional attire from the
Oromia region - and fans had also gathered.

Feyisa said the new government is "a result of the struggle by the
people" and he hopes it will address concerns after years of repression.

"I knew this day was coming because I know the blood spilled by all
these people was not going be in vain," the medal-winning runner told
the Reuters news agency upon arrival.

'Loved by my people'

The unrest in Ethiopia was originally triggered by protests over a
government development plan for Addis Ababa, which critics said would
lead to expropriation of farmland in the surrounding Oromia region.

Hundreds were subsequently killed by security forces as the
demonstrations evolved into rallies against perceived political and
economic marginalisation of ethnic Oromos.

In April, the EPRDF coalition which has ruled the country since 1991,
elected Abiy - a 42-year old ethnic Oromo - as prime minister.

"I knew the dictatorship would eventually fall down," Feyisa said. "I
was expecting this day, but I did not know if it would be today or
tomorrow, but it has been clear in my mind that I would go back to my
father's land alive."

As well as making peace with neighbour Eritrea, Abiy has pursued a
reconciliation strategy, extending an olive branch to dissidents and
rebel groups, although the changes have not stopped bouts of ethnically
charged violence.

After Rio, 28-year old Feyisa competed in a number of marathons, winning
some. He told reporters he planned to focus on training for his sport.

"I can still bring good results for my country in my field," he said. "I
was loved by my people because I am a sportsman not because I am a
politician. I only brought their suffering to global attention by using
my profession."

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