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ETHIOPIA: President expelled from ruling party

NAIROBI, 25 June (IRIN) - Ethiopian President Dr Negaso Gidada was expelled from the ruling coalition Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) on 22 June, in a move seen as the effective resignation of the largely figurehead leader, Reuters news agency said. On that day, Negaso had walked out of a meeting of the EPRDF council after complaining of pressure from the chairman, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, the pro-government Walta Information Centre said on 22 June.

Negaso was expelled from his Oromo People's Democratic Organisation (OPDO) party, which is part of the ruling coalition. The government-owned Ethiopian Herald said on 23 June that Negaso, who has been president since 1995, could no longer "represent OPDO in any form". The OPDO leadership accused the president of helping dissidents of Meles own Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) of preventing the "renewal of democracy" in the EPRDF, Agence France-Presse (AFP) said.

The EPRDF denied that the president had been put under pressure, and said he had left because he refused to discuss reforms, including an anti-corruption drive, at the highest levels. A group of 10 Tigrayan dissidents opposed to the policies of Meles were suspended from the TPLF central committee three months ago. Nine of them lost their parliamentary mandate, and two of them face prosecution for corruption, AFP said.

Parliament was due shortly to rule on whether Negaso should complete his mandate as head of state, news agencies said. Before his appointment as president, Negaso - who represents the Oromos, the largest ethnic group in the country - was minister of information, and was closely allied to the EPRDF against the armed Oromo Liberation Front (OLF).

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