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Ethiopia to unveil referendum results on new state on Saturday

The referendum on autonomy springs from a federal system designed to provide widespread ethnic self-rule in a hugely diverse country.

Voters wait in a queue to cast their vote during the Sidama referendum in Hawassa, Ethiopia, on 20 November 2019. Picture: AFP

HAWASSA – Ethiopia's electoral commission will on Saturday announce the results of a closely-watched referendum for a new federal state in the country's south, state media reported.

This week's vote is widely expected to approve the creation of a new state for the Sidama people - an outcome that could spur other ethnic groups to push for autonomy in Africa's second-most populous country, with over 100 million people.

The result is being finalised and will be unveiled Saturday, the state-affiliated media Fana reported Friday, citing the National Electoral Board of Ethiopia.

The referendum on autonomy springs from a federal system designed to provide widespread ethnic self-rule in a hugely diverse country.

At present, Ethiopia is partitioned into nine semi-autonomous regional states - with the Sidama voting for a potential tenth.

The referendum on Wednesday went off peacefully, with apparently overwhelming support among Sidamas to form their own state.

The push for autonomy triggered days of unrest in July that left dozens dead and prompted the government to place Ethiopia's southern region under the control of soldiers and federal police.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed on Thursday congratulated the Sidama people for "holding a peaceful and democratic referendum".

The Sidama autonomy push gained fresh momentum after Abiy, winner of this year's Nobel Peace Prize, took office last year and enacted a series of reforms that have encouraged more freedoms.

But his drive to open up Ethiopia's authoritarian one-party state has also unleashed ethnic violence as different groups and regions jostle for power and resources.

With more than 10 other ethnic groups potentially keen to hold their own referendum on autonomy, the Sidama referendum is being watched closely across Ethiopia.

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