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Obama joins chorus of condolences for Ethiopia’s Zenawi

US President Barack Obama has joined a host of international figures in offering his condolences to Ethiopia after the death of the country’s Prime Minister on Monday

Meles Zenawi, who died in a Brussels hospital following months of rumoured ill health, ruled Ethiopia for more than two decades after leading a rebellion in the country in 1991.

In a statement published by the White House, President Obama said, “It was with sadness that I learned of the passing of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia.

“Prime Minister Meles deserves recognition for his lifelong contribution to Ethiopia’s development, particularly his unyielding commitment to the country’s poor.

“I met with Prime Minister Meles at the G8 Summit in May and recall my personal admiration for his desire to lift millions of Ethiopians out of poverty through his drive for food security,” he added.

Obama went on to guarantee the US government’s commitment to its partnership with the East African nation.

During his time as Ethiopia’s head of government, Zenawi invested heavily in the country’s agricultural and power industries, and encouraged a strong focus on exploiting its geothermal resources. For eight years running the republic’s economic growth reached 10 per cent.

Zenawi did, however, gain notoriety for the authoritarian nature of his rule, with his government periodically taking brash measures to suppress political dissent. In July this year, 24 journalists were arrested in Ethiopia under claims of conspiring against the government and were found guilty of ‘terrorism’, with each defendant receiving prison sentences ranging from eight years to life imprisonment.

Former secretary-general of the United Nations and chair of the Africa Progress Panel, Kofi Annan, commented, “This is a challenging time for the country and its people. I ardently hope that the transition period will be smooth and peaceful and that Ethiopia sees leadership that reflects the aspirations of its people and realises the potential of this extraordinary country.

“I hope that his successor will continue to be a driving force on a wide range of issues, from brokering peace negotiations to shaping development relationships,” added Annan.

As Ethiopia’s economy grew under Zenawi rule, so did its relations with the world’s western powers, building particularly strong ties with the US.

Kenya President Mwai Kibaki, who worked with Zenawi on a number of joint investments including the ambitious Lamu Port development project, described the Ethiopian prime minister as a “pragmatic and visionary” leader whose death was a “devastating loss” to Africa.

“Together with other IGAD leaders we worked for regional peace, stability and prosperity,” President Kibaki remarked.

Looking forward, US Representative Karen Bass said, “A solid foundation for human rights and continued economic growth is possible, and as new leadership takes hold, it is my sincere hope that Ethiopia and the United States will remain allies on matters of security, but also creates a partnership and champion stringent human rights standards in throughout the region.”

Zenawi has been succeeded by Deputy Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn who will run proceedings until the next election cycle in 2015.

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