Ethiopia PM pushes for unity

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Ethiopia Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed told members of his ruling coalition “an attack on one is an attack on all” as he pushed for unity after months of ethnic violence.

Abiy presided over a series of jolting political and economic changes since coming to office in April – making peace with arch-foe Eritrea, freeing political prisoners, pledging to open up the state-controlled economy and promising to overhaul the security services.

The reforms have not stopped ethnically-charged violence that escalated since he was named premier – including in his own native Oromiya region where protesters first took to the streets in 2015 over perceived marginalisation by the state.
“If we are to see a developed Ethiopia, we should not commit violence on the basis of ethnicity or religion,” he told about 1,000 delegates at the congress of Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) in Hawassa.
“An attack on one is an attack on all. The displacement of one is the displacement of all. The death of one is the death of all,” he added.

Abiy promised to push for reconciliation and allowed leadership of the separatist Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) – previously outlawed as a terrorist organisation – as well as the opposition group Patriotic Ginbot 7 to return from exile.

The fighting continued. Clashes about 150 km from Hawassa between two ethnic groups, the Oromos and Gedeos, forced nearly a million people to flee their homes since Abiy took power.

Last week, more than 70,000 people – mostly Oromos – were targeted by members of other groups in the western state of Benishangul-Gumuz, regional officials said.

PAST SACRIFICES

Abiy, the first leader from the Oromo group in Ethiopia’s modern history, used his speech to praise past leaders as he sought to reassure the coalition after his changes.
“A country develops through transitions and a handover of leadership. The new generation should not blame the old generation but be grateful for their achievements and sacrifice,” he said.
“It is not about wiping out history – a history that has brought us here,” Abiy told the audience, many wearing T-shirts and hats emblazoned with the logos of the four ethnic groupings in the EPRDF. There was scattered applause through his remarks in a large conference hall.

The 42-year-old former army officer who speaks three Ethiopian languages delighted many in the country and among its Western backers by ending the military standoff with Eritrea.

There were signs the rapid changes caused misgivings in some quarters.

Two people were killed and scores wounded in a grenade attack on a rally attended by Abiy in June.

The Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front, an ethnic Tigrayan movement that dominated the EPRDF until Abiy’s rise and led the fight against Mengistu, initially warned against making concessions to Eritrea.

Abiy took over after street protests forced the resignation of the last Prime Minister, Hailemariam Desalegn, in February. Wednesday’s congress was the party’s first since unrest started in 2015.