x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Meles's 'protege' to take over as Ethiopia's prime minister until 2015 election

The move reflects the ruling party's determination to ensure a swift and smooth transfer of power following the death of Meles Zenawi.

Ethiopians carry posters reading ‘Meles We Love You’ as the body of the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi arrives in Addis Ababa.
Ethiopians carry posters reading ‘Meles We Love You’ as the body of the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi arrives in Addis Ababa.

ADDIS ABABA // Ethiopia's acting prime minister, Hailemariam Desalegn, will run the country until an election in 2015.

The move reflects the ruling party's determination to ensure a swift and smooth transfer of power following the death of Meles Zenawi.

Meles, 57, died on Monday at a hospital in Brussels, Belgium, after a long undisclosed illness. He came to power in 1991.

Parliament is expected to convene within the next two days and Mr Hailemariam will be sworn in as prime minister to finish Meles's five-year term.

In September 2010, shortly after the ruling Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front's fourth consecutive election victory, Mr Hailemariam, 47, was appointed deputy prime minister and minister of foreign affairs.

A few weeks after the vote, the party's congress promoted him to a deputy chair of the party, a sign, diplomats said, that he was being groomed for higher office.

Soft-spoken, humble, yet politically shrewd, the former university dean is considered Meles's protégé.

Speculation had been brewing that a potentially divisive race for the top post would follow Mr Meles's death.

Asked whether all coalition members of the party approved Mr Hailemariam's selection, a government spokesman, Bereket Simon, said: "They have no problem with this."

The ruling party controls 546 of the 547 seats of parliament.

Thousands of wailing Ethiopians turned out for the return of Meles's body yesterday, as an official national mourning period began.

A military band played as the coffin, draped in the national flag, was taken from an Ethiopian Airlines flight in the early hours of the morning. The ceremony was attended by political, military and religious leaders, as well as diplomats.

Meles's two daughters and his weeping widow, Azeb Mesfin, walked ahead of the band.

People carried candles and portraits of the late premier, following a convoy of cars accompanying his body.

His coffin was taken to the prime minister's official residence at the national palace, where his body will lie in state until the funeral.

Several hundred mourners gathered at the palace to pay their respects.

The US president, Barack Obama, led tributes to Meles, saying he deserved "recognition for his lifelong contribution to Ethiopia's development".

The UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, hailed his "exceptional leadership".

But while world leaders praised his legacy, rights groups said his death was a chance to end a brutal crackdown on basic freedoms.

The diminutive leader was regularly singled out as one of Africa's worst human-rights violators, and Amnesty International has called on the country's new leaders to end his government's "ever-increasing repression".

Mr. Meles had not been seen in public for weeks before his death, and there had been increasingly intense speculation about his health - though authorities insist he had been on the road to recovery when he was suddenly struck down by an infection, according to the BBC.

There is still no confirmation of the details of his medical condition.

* With additional reporting by Agence France-Presse