(GIN)—Former diplomat Mulatu Teshome was sworn in this week for a six-year term as president—a largely symbolic and ceremonial post.
Real power rests in the hands of the Prime Minister, Hailemariam Desalegn.
Mulatu, a 57-year-old economist, was Ethiopia’s ambassador to Turkey until his appointment. He replaces 88-year-old Girma Wolde-Giorgis, who served from 2001 until now. It was widely reported last year that the heavy-set Girma was dead of a heart attack and acute diabetes. However, in September 2013, he was quoted in the media wishing the country a happy New Year and pardoning 458 inmates in a New Year amnesty.
“I feel honored to be the fourth president of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia,” Mulatu said after taking the oath of office.
Mulatu, often referred to by his first name, has also served as ambassador to China and Japan and was Ethiopia’s minister of agriculture.
Meanwhile, news of the tragic deaths at sea of close to 300 mostly Eritrean, Somali and some Ethiopian refugees near Lampedusa, Italy, has shaken people of the Horn of Africa and in the Diaspora. Some 500 refugees were attempting to make the sea crossing when the boat capsized.
The incident has put the European Union’s refugee policy under fire. Some rights groups say there’s no way refugees can legally enter the bloc.
Sheila B. Keetharuth, the U.N. special rapporteur on Eritrea, said: “The alarming human rights situation in Eritrea is triggering a constant stream of refugees to
neighboring countries and far beyond. People continue to flee despite the extreme dangers along escape routes.”
An online petition by the Eritrean diasporic community calls on the government to bring the bodies back from Italy for burial in Eritrea.
It reads in part: “Every Eritrean death has a story, every victim has a mother, a sister, a father, brother or wife mourning. Let these families in grief know that we all care and suffer with them as a nation. This tragedy should be faced together as a people.”
Organizers are hoping for 5,000 signatures. The petition can be found at www.avaaz.org.
This article originally appeared in the Oct. 16 print edition.
Category: Africa Briefs