Ethiopia’s ethnic Sidama began voting in a referendum on whether to create a new regional state, the first of what’s expected to be a series of demands for more autonomy.
The plebiscite will test whether the Horn of Africa nation can hold a general election scheduled for next year peacefully. The outcome will provide an indication of whether the country’s political model of ethnic federalism
can accommodate growing calls for self-determination that have triggered clashes between ethnic groups.
The referendum was being held on Wednesday after being postponed by the authorities in July. That delay sparked violence in which about 170 people died, Amnesty International said, citing figures provided by unidentified Sidama activist groups.
“The Ethiopian authorities must take all appropriate measures to ensure a peaceful vote,” Amnesty said in a statement. “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.”