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Monday, 30 July, 2001, 16:52 GMT 17:52 UK
Ethiopian general opts for politics
Prime Minister Meles Zenawi
The general could swing the army in Mr Zenawi's favour
By Nita Bhalla in Addis Ababa

A prominent Ethiopian general has resigned from the army to take up a political position.

Major-General Abadula Gemeda, commander of the ground forces and seen as influential in the war against Eritrea, is a close ally of Prime Minster Meles Zenawi.

Mr Gemeda's decision to quit the army is seen by critics as another attempt by Mr Meles to consolidate his position in the face of rising political dissent.

Major-General Abadula Gemeda, who is in his late 40s, had tendered his resignation several times in the past before it was finally accepted by the prime minister early this month.

Services to Ethiopia

Mr Meles hailed the general's "services rendered to the army and the Ethiopian people".

Ethiopian soldiers
The major general was influential in war against Eritrea
Major-General Gemeda is from the majority Oromo ethnic group and was a member of the Oromo People's Democratic Organisation (OPDO) - now part of the ruling EPRDF coalition - before they overthrew dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam 10 years ago.

But OPDO has been rocked by corruption scandals in recent months and last week suspended its secretary general, Kuma Demeksa, on charges of corruption, "anti-democratic practices", abuse of power and nepotism.

The opposition has described Mr Gemeda's move into politics as "too coincidental", as he could well be a possible successor to the sacked Mr Demeksa.

Major-General Gemeda, sceptics say, could prove very valuable to Mr Meles, as he has considerable support within the rank and file of the army.

This, they say, would be critical particularly if the military - which has been largely independent so far - were forced to chose between the prime minister and the dissenters.

See also:

10 Jan 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Ethiopia
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