Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn has resigned unexpectedly, saying he hoped to end years of unrest and political upheaval.
In a televised address, he said his resignation was “vital in the bid to carry out reforms that would lead to sustainable peace and democracy”. Mr Hailemariam, who has led the country since 2012, also stepped down as chairman of the ruling coalition. Hundreds of people have died in three years of anti-government protests. Demonstrations first spread across the country in 2015 amid calls for political and economic reform and an end to state corruption.
Most of the unrest has centred on Ethiopia’s two largest regions, Oromia and Amhara. A 10-month national state of emergency that ended last year failed to stop the protests, as did the release of thousands of opposition supporters from jail last month..
“Unrest and a political crisis have led to the loss of lives and displacement of many,” Mr Hailemariam said.
“I see my resignation as vital in the bid to carry out reforms that would lead to sustainable peace and democracy.”
Since coming to power, Mr Hailemariam has been seen by the political elite as weak and lacking in leadership. Replacing Mr Hailemariam might also be one way to meet the demands of Oromo protesters who have accused the authorities of marginalization.
Getaneh Balcha, of the opposition Blue Party, said Mr Hailemariam’s resignation was “great news for Ethiopians”.
“This is the beginning. Other officials also need to follow this and transfer the power to the public,” he said.
Mr Hailemariam, a trained engineer, took office IN 2012 following the death of Meles Zenawi who had ruled since 1991. However, while the former deputy prime minister was a close ally of Mr Meles, he struggled to gain approval of the other EPRDF leaders in order to assume his role.
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