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Dissident Marathoner Returns Home From Exile

After protest on Rio Olympics stand, Feyisa Lilesa finally goes back to Ethiopia
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Oct 21, 2018 7:11 AM CDT
In this file photo dated Sunday, Aug. 21, 2016, silver medalist Feyisa Lilesa crosses his arms after the men's marathon at the Rio Olympics. Lilesa went into exile after protesting oppression in his home...   (AP Photo/Luca Bruno, FILE)
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(Newser) – The Ethiopian marathon runner who made global headlines with an anti-government gesture at the Rio Olympics returned from exile on Sunday after sports officials assured him he will not face prosecution. Feyisa Lilesa's return from the United States came several months after a reformist prime minister took office and announced sweeping political reforms, reports the AP. He received a warm welcome at the airport from the foreign minister and other senior officials. Feyisa said the new government is "a result of the struggle by the people" and he hopes it will address years of repression in Africa's second most populous nation. The silver medalist crossed his wrists at the finish line in 2016 in solidarity with protesters in his home region, Oromia, who like many across Ethiopia were demanding wider freedoms.

Feyisa later said he feared he would be imprisoned or killed if he returned home. But he became a symbol of resistance for many youth until the pressure on the government led to a change of power, with 42-year-old PM Abiy Ahmed taking office in April. Asked by the AP if he has any political ambitions, Feyisa said: "I don't have any ambition in politics! Actually I didn't get close to politics, politics gets close to me." Feyisa broke down in tears while speaking about youth who lost their lives during years of protests. "I will continue to remember those who lost their lives for the cause. Many people lost their lives for it." His next race will be the Dubai Marathon in January. "My training while I was in exile was not good, so it has affected my performance," Feyisa said. He missed two races in recent weeks. "I will resume my regular training after a week."

(Read more Ethiopia stories.)

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