Ethiopia’s leader urges calm as key referendum begins

Ethiopia’s leader urges calm as key referendum begins and ethnic groups push for more say

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia -- Ethiopia’s Nobel Peace Prize-winning prime minister urged calm on Wednesday as millions of citizens held a referendum on whether to create a new regional state along ethnic lines.

The Sidama make up about 4% of the population of Ethiopia, and the electoral commission has said some 2.3 million people registered to vote.

Deadly clashes followed when the referendum was postponed in July. No official toll was announced.

Results of the referendum are expected Thursday.

In a statement ahead of Wednesday’s vote, Amnesty International urged authorities to prevent any use of excessive force.

“The referendum comes at an especially tense time when violence based on ethnic differences is breaking out all over the country and people are being killed simply for expressing their opinions,” Amnesty’s deputy director for the region, Seif Magango, said.

The Wolaita and Kaffa people, also in southern Ethiopia, already have requested regional statehood but it is not clear whether similar votes will take place.

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