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Evan Vucci, Associated Press
President Barack Obama speaks during a joint news conference with Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, Monday, July 27, 2015, at the National Palace in Addis Ababa. Obama is the first sitting U.S. president to visit Ethiopia.

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia — President Barack Obama, owner of two dogs, seems a little envious.

The president opened a news conference with Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn on Monday by remarking with admiration on the rare Abyssinian lions that live on the grounds of Ethiopia's National Palace.

"I'm considering getting some for the White House — although I'll have to make sure my dogs are safe," he said.

The Abyssinian lions, famed for their black manes, have long been associated with the imperial dynasty of Ethiopia.

Ethiopia's last emperor, Haile Selassie I, used to call himself "the lion of Judah." The lion still appears on the local currency.

Invitations to a state dinner are typically among the most coveted of all invites.

Not this time, at least not for a leading opposition figure in Ethiopia.

Yilikal Getnet, chairman of the Blue Party, turned down an invitation to attend Monday's state dinner here with Obama, saying it would amount to taking part in a 'luxurious dinner while millions suffer in Ethiopia."

Yilikal told the local paper Negere Ethiopia that he also made the decision "after watching President Obama saying that the ruling party in Ethiopia is elected democratically."

The country's ruling coalition won a sweeping victory in parliamentary elections in May that Western nations criticized as unfair.

Obama found a new way to let people know he can be blunt.

Asked about Ethiopia's human rights record at the news conference, Obama said the prime minister "will indicate that I don't bite my tongue too much when it comes to these issues."

Obama didn't bite his tongue either when he was asked about criticism he's been getting from Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee. He said the GOP presidential candidates have unleashed a pattern of harsh remarks that "would be considered ridiculous if it weren't so sad."

Hailemariam used his opening remarks at the joint news conference to highlight the historic nature of Obama's visit as the first trip to Ethiopia by a U.S. president.

He said Ethiopia already has a number of firsts to its name, and he chose to highlight one that's dear to caffeine lovers worldwide: his country's standing as "the birthplace of coffee."