Ethiopia postpones autonomy referendum for ethnic Sidama: Fana news agency

FILE PHOTO: Donkeys walk past a billboard that reads “Welcome to Sidama National Regional State” on the outskirt of Hawassa, Ethiopia July 17, 2019. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri/File Photo

ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – Ethiopia postponed by a week a referendum on self-determination for its ethnic Sidama community that would have created the country’s 10th autonomous region, Fana news agency reported on Tuesday.

The new date for the vote is Nov. 20 instead of Nov. 13, the delay caused by referendum preparations lagging behind, Fana cited an electoral board statement as saying.

Ethiopia’s nine regional states enjoy a level of autonomy where they are able to choose their official language and have limited powers over taxation, education, health and land administration.

Emboldened by reforms introduced by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed since he came to office in 2018, political activists from the Sidama, currently subsumed into one of the nine states, wanted to unilaterally declare a new regional state in July.

At least 17 people were killed that same month in clashes between security forces and Sidama activists, while some leaders accepted an offer from the government for a referendum within five months.

In August, the electoral board said it would deploy close to 1,700 polling stations and 8,500 election officials for the referendum.

At least eight other ethnic groups in Ethiopia, a country of 105 million people, are also seeking autonomy.

Abiy, 43, appointed by the ruling coalition in April 2018, has won praise for political reforms in what was once one of the continent’s most repressive nations.

He won the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize on Friday for his peacemaking efforts, which ended two decades of hostility with longtime enemy Eritrea.

But with many activists using the greater freedoms to demand more rights, tensions between rival interests have sometimes led to violence.

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