A political party representing some of Ethiopia's ethnic Sidama people said Thursday it would postpone plans to declare a new region in defiance of the federal government and would accept the offer of a referendum in five months' time. The plans would be a direct challenge to the federal government and could encourage eight other ethnic groups to make similar demands.
Protesters in the Ethiopian city of Hawassa yesterday morning had blocked roads and burned tires after security forces thwarted a meeting of activists to declare a new region for their Sidama ethnic group, witnesses said. The declaration would have been a test of whether Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed's federal government can stick to its commitment to peaceful political reforms amid increasing demands from competing ethno-nationalist groups.
Leaders of the Sidama ethnic group in southern Ethiopia had planned to unilaterally declare their own federal state yesterday. At present, Ethiopia is partitioned into nine semi-autonomous regions. The constitution requires the government to organize a referendum for any ethnic group that wants to form a new entity within a year of them requesting it. The Sidama have agitated for years to leave the diverse Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples' Region of which they are a part, and create their own state.
The group, the largest in the state, said the deadline for the referendum was yesterday. However Ethiopia's election board said this week it would hold a referendum before the end of the year. It said it had not received the referendum request until November 2018, meaning it still had several months to hold the vote.