Martin Plaut is a journalist specialising in the Horn of Africa and Southern Africa, and senior research fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies.
The Ethiopian government's announcement came amid a widespread protest which continued since the first half of 2016, prompting the East African country to undergo a 10-month state of emergency that ended in August 2017.
The Prime Minister said charges will be dropped for all "political prisoners" who are now under prosecution and pardons will be issued to all who have already been convicted and are serving their sentences in order to create the space for a national dialogue and national consensus.
It was not immediately clear how many political prisoners were being held across the country, a close US security ally.
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Ethiopians were quick to respond, even with social media sites now blocked. We are calling on the Ethiopian authorities to implement today's decision as quickly as possible by immediately and unconditionally releasing them.
Ethiopia's government has always been accused of arresting critical journalists and opposition leaders.
Some of the prominent politicians now in custody include opposition leaders Bekele Gerba and Merara Gudina.
Desalegn, who had promised the general public to reshuffle his government, had also introduced new cabinet members, of which only 9 of the ministers in the 30-member cabinet remained in their previous positions.
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The prime minister also indicated that by turning Maekelawi into a museum, the government will set up another investigation center in line with the Ethiopian constitution and the country's human rights laws.
"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.
While the total number of people detained has not been specified, thousands have been taken into custody since 2015, the BBC reported.
Elias Meseret is an Associated Press writer.
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