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Macron hails Ethiopia's reforms as Abiy visits Paris

media French President Emmanuel Macron (R) and Ethiopia's Abiy Ahmed at the press conference in Paris Michel Euler / POOL / AFP

French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday hosted Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and praised the young leader's "transformation" of his country. The two countries signed dedals on energy, transport and culture.

"You have here a country which loves your country but also admires the transformation you are carrying out," Macron told Abiy at a press conference in Paris.

Macron offered "all my support and that of France" in reforming Ethiopia and "in calming domestic tensions" and he will visit Ethiopia in March.

Abiy, 42, was on his first European trip since taking office in April.

French officials signed a string of cooperation deals with their counterparts from Africa's second most populous nation, in areas rincluding transport, energy and culture.

Macron and Abiy also pledged to increase cultural cooperation, especially on World Heritage sites such as the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela.

France will contribute to the maintenance and renovation of the site, Abiy said.

On top of that, French experts are set to advise Ethiopian officials on how to open the national palace, dating back to the rule of Haile Selassie who was emperor from 1930 to 1974, to tourists.

On the diplomatic front, France welcomed “the rapprochement between Ethiopia and Eritrea” in reference to Abiy's efforts to end two decades of conflict with its neighbour.

Abiy in return said he expects Macron to play a key role in peacemaking efforts between Eritrea and Djibouti, Ethiopia’s neighbours who have agreed last month to normalise ties a decade after a border dispute led to brief military clashes.

Abiy's reform programme praised

Abiy has also received global praise for recent economic reforms and reaching out to dissidents but is grappling with bloody ethnic disputes which have displaced some 1.4 million people.

"The communal conflicts cannot undo the reform agenda," Abiy said, arguing that economic reforms would help end the violence by bringing greater prosperity.

Abiy took office following more than two years of anti-government protests by his Oromo people and also the Amhara, Ethiopia's second biggest ethnicity.

Both groups charged they had been marginalised by the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) and their uprisings led to hundreds of deaths, tens of thousands of arrests and the shock February resignation of prime minister Hailemariam Desalegn.

While the anti-government unrest dissipated after Abiy took power, ethnic fighting flared almost immediately.

It has continued despite Abiy announcing popular reforms, including a reshuffle of security chiefs, while warning security forces against rights abuses.

Gender balance in government

Abiy last week appointed a slimline 20-strong cabinet in which half the posts are held by women.

And Ethiopia on Thursday appointed a woman to the largely ceremonial position of president for the first time.

In a unanimous vote, Ethiopian lawmakers picked career diplomat Sahle-Work Zewde, 68, to replace Mulatu Teshome who resigned in unclear circumstances.

Sahle-Work, who was born in the capital Addis Ababa and attended university in France, has been Ethiopia's ambassador to France, Djibouti, Senegal and the regional bloc, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (Igad).

Before her appointment as president she was the UN's top official at the African Union.

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