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Ethiopia Faces Reforms' Next Steps as Ruling Coalition Meets

FILE - Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed speaks in Washington, July 28, 2018.
FILE - Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed speaks in Washington, July 28, 2018.

Ethiopia's ruling coalition is expected to take the next steps this week on sweeping reforms announced under its new prime minister as it begins its first congress since he took power in April.

"A true measure of leadership is not indispensability,'' Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed told the gathering on Wednesday, adding that a true leader produces qualified successors and makes "herself/himself redundant," according to Twitter posts by his chief of staff, Fitsum Arega.

The prime minister has pledged free and fair elections in Africa's second most populous nation in 2020 and dramatically widened the political space by welcoming once-banned opposition groups home from exile to join dialogue. Ethiopia since 1991 has been led by the coalition and allied parties that hold every seat in Parliament.

The political and economic reforms, which also made surprising peace with longtime rival Eritrea and would open state-run enterprises to investment, have been welcomed with enthusiasm by many, but already Abiy has been the target of an assassination attempt. Last week Ethiopia's attorney general filed terrorism charges against five people and accused them of wanting to pave the way for the once-banned Oromo Liberation Front.

Some have expressed concern that enthusiasm over the returning groups has played a role in the resurgence of deadly ethnic tensions that pose a major challenge to reforms.

In the latest unrest, the Oromia region reported more than 70,000 people displaced by fresh violence in late September. The number of Ethiopia's internally displaced people has reached 2.8 million, up from 1.6 million at the beginning of the year, the United Nations recently reported.

Ethiopians have long expressed grievances over the country's federal structure that is largely based on ethnic lines and has been held together by the ruling coalition and its security forces. The country of 100 million people has more than 80 ethnic groups.

Abiy on Wednesday told the ruling coalition congress that "a federal form of government is a preferred option in Ethiopia as long as we don't confuse regional arrangements with ethnic identity," according to his chief of staff. "Each regional administrative unit should serve all citizens with respect and without discrimination."