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A potentially bloody confrontation between Ethiopia’s federal government and a minority community was averted on Thursday when a political party postponed plans to set up a new region for the Sidama people in defiance of central authorities in Addis Ababa.

A potentially bloody confrontation between Ethiopia’s federal government and a minority community was averted on Thursday when a political party postponed plans to set up a new region for the Sidama people in defiance of central authorities in Addis Ababa.

But if the government had acceded, it could appear weak at a time when ethnic violence is increasing, and encourage eight other ethnic groups who are making similar demands and complain their communities have long been marginalized.

Ethiopia’s 100 million citizens come from dozens of ethnic groups with competing claims to land, resources and influence.

The showdown was averted when the Sidama Liberation Movement, which represents some of the Sidama, said that it had accepted a last-minute offer from the government to hold a referendum within five months.

The Sidama had demanded a referendum a year ago on the question of a new regional state – a right enshrined by the constitution – and announced their plans to declare their region when it was not held within the stipulated timeline.

“Now the most important thing is peace for our people,” Million Tumato, president of the Sidama Liberation Movement, told Reuters. “Still the five months timeline is not specific as it doesn’t indicate when the referendum will take place.”

Almost all shops were shut and few cars were on the streets in Hawassa, 275 km (170 miles) from Addis Ababa, on Thursday morning as protesters wearing traditional red, white and yellow striped Sidama scarves and hats marched to the venue of a planned meeting of Sidama elders and youth.

Reuters

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