June 23, 2009 / 1:36 AM / in 8 years

Ethiopia's Meles says preparing to step down - report

LONDON (Reuters) - Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi was quoted on Tuesday as saying he was preparing to step down and that discussions on the issue had already started within his ruling party.

<p>Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi attends a news conference in the capital Addis Ababa, April 21, 2009. REUTERS/Irada Humbatova</p>

“My personal position is that I have had enough,” Meles, who came to power in 1991 when his then guerrilla group ousted former Marxist ruler Mengistu Haile Mariam, said in an interview with the Financial Times.

Meles, whose ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front faces a parliamentary election in June next year, gave no deadline for his departure.

“I am arguing my case and the others are also arguing their case. I hope we will come up with some common understanding on the way forward that would not require me to resign from my party that I have fought for all my life,” said Meles.

“We are not talking about Meles only. We are talking about the old generation. The party needs to have new leadership that does not have the experience of the armed struggle.”

Meles was hailed as part of a new generation of African leaders in the 1990s, but rights groups have increasingly criticised the guerrilla-turned-premier for cracking down on opposition in sub-Saharan Africa’s second most populous nation.

Ethiopia’s political climate is closely watched by foreign investors showing increasing interest in agriculture, horticulture and real estate prospects.

The country is one of the world’s poorest, ranked 170 out of 177 on the United Nations Human Development Index, and one of the largest recipients of international aid.

Ethiopia sent thousands of troops into Somalia in 2006 to help topple an Islamist movement holding Mogadishu and most of the south.

That drew protests from some in the Muslim world and enraged the Islamists, who regrouped to launch an insurgency. The Ethiopian troops withdrew in January.

Editing by Ralph Gowling

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