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Ethiopian PM Abiy Ahmed wins Nobel Peace Prize

Nobel Media | A drawing of Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.

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.

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Ethiopia and Eritrea, longtime foes who fought a border war from 1998 to 2000, restored relations in July 2018 after years of hostility.

"Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali has been awarded this year's Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to achieve peace and international cooperation, and in particular for his decisive initiative to resolve the border conflict with neighbouring Eritrea," the Norwegian Nobel Committee said in its citation.

The committee also praised the "important reforms" that Abiy, Ethiopia's leader since April 2018, has launched at home.

At 43, Abiy Ahmed is the youngest head of government in Africa.

"This victory and recognition is a collective win for all Ethiopians, and a call to strengthen our resolve in making Ethiopia - the new horizon of hope - a prosperous nation for all," the prime minister's office said.

It quoted Abiy as saying: "We are proud as a nation."

Abiy took office after widespread protests pressured the longtime ruling coalition and hurt one of the world's fastest growing economies. 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 neighbour.

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. But while Abiy became a global darling, speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, troubles arose at home.

A grenade was thrown at him during an appearance in the capital. A large group of soldiers confronted him in his office in what he called an attempt to derail his reforms. In a display of the brio that has won Abiy widespread admiration, the former military officer defused the situation by dropping to the floor and joining the troops in push-ups.

More troubling these days are Ethiopia's rising ethnic tensions, as people once stifled by repression now act on long-held grievances. Some 1,200 people have been killed and some 1.2 million displaced in the greatest challenge yet to Abiy's rule. Some observers warn that the unrest will grow ahead of next year's election.

Abiy had been among the favorites for this year's prize in the run-up to Friday's announcement, though winners are notoriously hard to predict. The Nobel committee doesn't reveal the names of candidates or nominations for 50 years.

Since 1901, 99 Nobel Peace Prizes have been handed out, to individuals and 24 organisations. While the other prizes are announced in Stockholm, the peace prize is awarded in the Norwegian capital, Oslo.

So far this week, 11 Nobel laureates have been named. The others received their awards for their achievements in medicine, physics, chemistry and literature

The prize, worth nine million Swedish crowns, or around $900,000, will be presented in Oslo on Dec. 10, the anniversary of the death of Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel, who founded the awards in his 1895 will.

(FRANCE 24 with AP and REUTERS)

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