Ethiopia's prime minister replaces security chiefs as part of reforms

ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed replaced the heads of two branches of the security services as he presses ahead with political and economic reforms in response to demands from protesters many of whom were killed.

FILE PHOTO: Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed addresses the members of parliament inside the House of Peoples' Representatives in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia April 19, 2018. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri/File Photo

He named Seare Mekonnen to lead the armed forces, Abiy’s Chief of Staff Fitsum Arega said in a Twitter post late on Thursday. He replaces Samora Yunis, who had a four-decade military career.

Abiy also named air force head Adem Mohamed to lead the National Intelligence and Security Service, replacing Getachew Assefa, the Ethiopian News Agency said, quoting a statement from the prime minister’s office.

Samora and Getachew are senior members of the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and their replacements lack their political influence, an analyst said.

“This certainly indicates a weakening of the TPLF,” said a university lecturer in the capital Addis Ababa who declined to be named. The TPLF is dominated by ethnic Tigrayans, while Abiy is an ethnic Oromo.

The TPLF has dominated Ethiopian politics since 1991, when the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front drove Mengistu Haile Mariam’s regime from power after a civil war.

Abiy was sworn in April to lead Ethiopia, a country in the Horn of Africa that has the biggest economy in East Africa and is the continent’s second largest country by population. Security forces killed hundreds of people during unrest that began in 2015 as protesters pushed for reforms.

Other senior officials have also retired. These include Abadula Gemeda, who was only appointed as Abiy’s advisor on national security in April, as well as Sebhat Nega, a founder of the rebel movement that toppled Mengistu. Other officials who served as heads of industrial development bodies have also stepped down.

The reshuffle came days after Abiy announced the partial liberalization of state-owned firms like the country’s flag carrier Ethiopian Airlines and telecoms monopoly Ethio Telecom.

He has also announced that landlocked Ethiopia, which lost its access to the Red Sea nearly three decades ago, plans to build a navy as part of military reforms.

The country disbanded its navy in 1991 after its then-province Eritrea seceded following a three-decade war for independence. It does however have a maritime institute that trains seafarers.

He has also extended an olive branch with neighboring Eritrea, with whom Ethiopia has been embroiled in a bitter border spat ever since the two countries fought each other over a disputed town in 1998-2000.

The EPRDF coalition is made up of four region-based parties, with the party from Tigray, the TPLF, maintaining a political dominance ever since the coalition came to power in 1991.

Editing by Duncan Miriri and Matthew Mpoke Bigg