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Ethiopia says its economic growth rate has topped 10 percent for the sixth year in a row, and could do it again in the current year, despite the global economic turndown. But international economists and Ethiopia's political opposition are questioning the figures.
President Girma Woldegiorgis says Ethiopia's economy grew at a 10.1-percent rate during the past year, even though poor rains crippled the dominant agriculture sector and curtailed power generation, forcing a partial shutdown of factories.
Speaking to the opening session of Ethiopia's parliament, Mr. Girma called the growth "a remarkable achievement."
"The fact that our economy has been able continuously to register growth rates of more than 10 percent annually for the last six consecutive years in such difficult global and domestic circumstances is an attestation of the success of our policies and strategies designed to speed up our development," he said.
The Ethiopian president chided economists who had warned that Ethiopia could not achieve double-digit growth without fueling inflation. He suggested, but stopped short of predicting, that government policies would succeed in achieving the same economic feat this year.
"Our objective will be to continue the pace of rapid economic growth by registering a growth rate of 10-percent for the 7th consecutive year, and while controlling inflation at less than 10 percent," he added.
Mr. Girma's announcement came just weeks after Ethiopia's Prime Minister Meles Zenawi pegged the growth rate for the past year as low as 9.2 percent. As recently as April, the government had forecast 11.2 percent growth.
Ethiopia's political opposition immediately rejected Mr. Girma's figures. Prominent opposition leader Merera Gudina accused the government of 'cooking' (changing) the data. He said average Ethiopians would know the figures were false because their standard of living has failed to improve.
International Monetary Fund and World Bank officials were not immediately available for comment, but the IMF earlier estimated an increase of 6.5 percent or less for Ethiopia during the fiscal year that ended in July.
Ethiopia is among the world's poorest countries. Its agriculture sector, which supports more than 80 percent of the population, has been hit by a third consecutive year of drought.
The government's latest figures suggest one out of six Ethiopians, or nearly 14 million people, are in need of food aid.