Africa

Ethiopian Olympic protest runner Feyisa Lilesa reunited with family

Olympic silver medallist Feyisa Lilesa, rear, of Ethiopia, hugs his wife Iftu Mulia, his daughter Soko, right, five, and son Sora, left, three, while picking up his family at Miami International Airport, Tuesday 14 February 2017, in Miami, the US Image copyright AP
Image caption Feyisa Lilesa was reunited with his wife on Valentine's Day

Ethiopian runner Feyisa Lilesa, famous for his protest at the Rio Olympics, has been reunited with his family for the first time since going into exile.

He crossed his wrists over his head as he took silver in the marathon in a gesture against the Ethiopian government's treatment of Oromo people.

Afterwards he refused to go home, saying his life might be in danger.

Now in the US, it is the first time he has seen his wife and two young children for at least six months.

He told the Associated Press news agency that the decision to leave his family behind had been a necessary risk.

"Putting them potentially in harm's way was a good lesson for a lot of people that you need to sacrifice in order for you to win some concessions and change your situation," he said.

"In that sense, it inspires people to fight for their rights and resist the government in Ethiopia."

Image copyright AP
Image caption Feyisa Lilesa's five-year-old daughter spotted him first and ran for a hug

In September the athlete left Brazil for the US, where he is staying on a special skills visa.

His family arrived with visas as well, AP reports.

Mr Feyisa became the first Ethiopian to finish in the top two of a men's Olympics marathon since 2000, claiming silver behind Kenya's Eliud Kipchoge.

After his political protest, Ethiopian officials denied he was in danger, saying he would be welcomed home from Rio as a hero.

At the time, Mr Feyisa said he had relatives who were in prison and if they talked about democratic rights they would be killed.

He is from Oromia, home to most of Ethiopia's 35 million Oromo people, the country's largest ethnic group.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Feyisa Lilesa made the protest as he crossed the marathon finish line to claim silver

A wave of anti-government protests began in the region in November 2015 with people complaining about social and political marginalisation.

During the protests and police crackdowns, they used the symbol of crossing their arms above their heads to mark their defiance.

In October, a six-month state of emergency was imposed in Ethiopia to deal with the unprecedented anti-government unrest.

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