* Think tank says dissent, ethnic tension, rising
* Says "ethnic federalism" has increased competition
By Barry Malone
ADDIS ABABA, Sept 7 (Reuters) - Ethiopia could suffer ethnic violence next year ahead of its first national elections since a 2005 poll triggered street clashes following a disputed victory for the government, a think tank has said.
In a study released over the weekend, the International Crisis Group (ICG) warned of the potential for a violent eruption of conflict ahead of the election scheduled for May 2010 because of rising ethnic tensions and dissent.
"The international community must stop ignoring and downplaying these problems and encourage meaningful democratic governance in the country," the ICG said in a statement.
Ethiopian government officials were not immediately available to comment.
The 2005 elections were touted as Ethiopia’s first truly democratic poll. But they ended in bloodshed after the government declared victory and the opposition cried foul.
Police and soldiers then killed about 200 people who had taken to the streets in protest. Prime Minister Meles Zenawi accused the demonstrators of trying to topple the government.
Rights groups regularly accuse his administration of cracking down on opponents. One party leader has been jailed and several former and serving military officers have been charged in recent months with plotting to oust Meles.
The ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) is made up of parties from all major ethnic groups.
It introduced a system of "ethnic federalism" when it took power in 1991, after a communist regime was toppled, with major ethnicities controlling the regions where they dominate.
The government says that gives all ethnicities equal power.
"Ethnic federalism has not dampened conflict, but rather increased competition among groups fighting for land, natural resources, administrative boundaries and government budgets," said Francois Grignon, director of the ICG’s Africa Program.
"This concept has powerfully promoted ethnic self-awareness among all groups and failed to accommodate grievances."
The ICG called on donors who give money to sub-Saharan Africa’s second most populous country — which is one of the world’s biggest recipients of foreign aid — to put pressure on Meles’ government. (Editing by Daniel Wallis)