Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn Resigns Amidst Political Turmoil

Ethiopian prime minister Hailemariam Desalegn speaks during an interview with Reuters at his office in the capital Addis Ababa 10 October 2013

After overseeing the release on February 13 and 14 of thousands of political challengers to the regime, Ethiopian prime minister Hailemariam Desalegn has resigned amid continuing protests that potentially threaten the survival of the government.

Earlier this week, men wielding sticks and stones blocked roads around the capital and the Oromia region, which has been at the centre of the protest movement, in a two-day strike to push for more prisoner releases.

In a bid to ease tensions, the government last month began issuing a string of pardons and prisoner releases, after Hailemariam said jailed "politicians" would be freed "to improve the national consensus and widen the democratic platform". His resignation was done via a televised announcement on Thursday amid political turmoil in one of Africa's fastest-growing economies.

Still, anti-government protests continue to occur, and a separate spate of clashes between the Oromo and Somali ethnicities displaced a million people late previous year.

There were also rumors swirling on social media that there would be a new state of emergency until another prime minister was selected.

A member of the Wolayta ethnic minority in the country's south, Hailemariam was seen as lacking the charisma of his predecessor Meles Zenawi, who led the EPRDF to victory over the Derg communist Junta.

"The risk of catastrophic ethnic clashes is real", said longtime independent Ethiopia researcher Rene Lefort.

The unrest led to a months-long state of emergency that has since been lifted.

Africa's second most populous nation has been plagued by years of unrest.

A staunch USA ally in the fight against terrorism and the second-most populous country in Africa, Ethiopia is a regional powerhouse with grand economic ambitions. The highest-ranking Amhara in the ruling coalition is Deputy Prime Minister Demeke Mekonnen.

A statement from the Ethiopian Embassy in the United Kingdom said the Ethiopia Peoples' Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) was due to hold a Congress at which Desalegn's successor will be named. About ten people were reported dead during protests in the Oromia region.

We hope the future of a new Ethiopia will also include a robust participation by existing (and or yet to be formed) political parties that are organized based on ideas and not necessarily by ethnic affiliation.

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