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article imageEthiopia's torn Orthodox church reunites after 27 years

By AFP     Jul 27, 2018 in World

Ethiopia's prime minister has unveiled the start of a process to reconcile the two feuding wings of the one of the world's oldest Christian churches, state media reported on Friday.

The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church split in 1991 over the naming of a new patriarch after the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) removed the Derg military junta from power.

Dissidents founded a breakaway church based in the United States after leading church officials claimed the naming of a new patriarch violated church rules that say the role is held for life.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, in his maiden visit to the United States, on Thursday announced a plan to heal the rift, the state-affiliated Fana Broadcasting Corporate said.

It showed Abiy in Washington with members of the breakaway faction of the Orthodox church at an event inaugurating a committee to heal the schism.

"Prime Minister Dr. Abiy Ahmed said it is impossible to think of Ethiopia without taking note of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, which he said, is both great and sacred," Fana reported.

"While noting that the reconciliation event marks a historic jump, the Prime Minister emphasised that this has been something overdue," the broadcaster added.

Tracing its roots back to the fourth century, the Orthodox church is Ethiopia's largest, gathering 38 million people, according to the World Council of Churches.

The country is also home to a Muslim minority and a growing protestant population that includes the prime minister.

Since taking office in April, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has prioritised reconciliation between dissidents and the EPRDF, which has held power unopposed for 27 years.

He has released numerous jailed dissidents from Ethiopian jails, and sometimes met them personally upon their release.

Earlier this week, he called for "multi-party democracy," a stunning shift for the EPRDF which has been in power continuously since 1991 and holds every seat in parliament together with its allies.

He has also opened the doors to historic reconciliation with neighbouring Eritrea

The visit to the US is set to be something of a charm offensive for Abiy.

After his arrival in Washington, Reuben E. Brigety II, a former American ambassador to the African Union headquarters in Ethiopia, tweeted a photo showing the prime minister smiling and holding hands with a lone protester who greeted him outside the Ethiopian embassy.

He is also visiting diaspora communities in Los Angeles and the state of Minnesota in a visit the Ethiopian government has titled "Tear down barriers, and build bridges!"

Hundreds of thousands of Ethiopians live in the US, among them numerous journalists and politicians who have fallen out with the EPRDF.

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