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Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed attends the High Level Consultation Meetings of Heads of State and Government on the situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo at the African Union Headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia January 17, 2019. Photo by Tiksa Negeri/Reuters

Nobel Peace Prize awarded to Ethiopian prime minister

OSLO, Norway (AP) — Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for 2019 in recognition of his efforts to end his country’s long-running border conflict with Eritrea.

The Norwegian Nobel Institute on Friday also praised the “important reforms” that Abiy, Ethiopia’s leader since April 2018, has launched at home.

Chairwoman Berit Reiss-Andersen said some people may consider it too early to give him the prize, but “it is now that Abiy Ahmed’s efforts need recognition and deserve encouragement.”

Abiy, 43, took office after widespread protests pressured the longtime ruling coalition and hurt one of the world’s fastest growing economies. Africa’s youngest leader quickly announced dramatic reforms and “Abiymania” began.

In a move that caused surprise in the long-turbulent Horn of Africa region, he said Ethiopia would accept a peace agreement with Eritrea, ending one of Africa’s longest-running conflicts.

Within weeks, Eritrea’s longtime leader, visibly moved, visited Addis Ababa and communications and transport links were restored. For the first time in two decades people could, long-divided families made tearful reunions.

The improving relations led to the lifting of United Nations sanctions on Eritrea, one of the world’s most reclusive nations. But Ethiopia’s reforms appear not to have inspired any in Eritrea, which has since closed border posts with its neighbor.

At home, Abiy offered one political surprise after another. He released tens of thousands of prisoners, welcomed home once-banned opposition groups and acknowledged past abuses. People expressed themselves freely on social media, and he announced that Ethiopia would hold free and fair elections in 2020. The country has one of the world’s few “gender-balanced” Cabinets and a female president, a rarity in Africa.

And for the first time Ethiopia had no journalists in prison, media groups noted last year.

The new prime minister also announced the opening-up of Ethiopia’s tightly controlled economy, saying private investment would be welcome in major state-owned sectors — a process that continues slowly.

Elias Meseret reported from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Cara Anna in Johannesburg, Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen, Denmark, and Geir Moulson in Berlin contributed to this report.

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