ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - Ethiopia's prime minister said on Saturday an election due for 2020 would be free and should not be delayed by his sweeping reforms to the African nation's politics, economy and diplomacy.
Abiy Ahmed, who took office in April, also told his first news conference that the World Bank would provide $1 billion in budget support in the next few months.
The Washington-based institution and other donors suspended budgetary help following a vote in 2005 that was disputed by the opposition and accompanied by violence that killed 200 people.
Explaining the World Bank's decision, the prime minister said: "This is due to the reforms taking place in the country."
Since becoming prime minister, the former intelligence officer has taken steps to open up the state-dominated economy, released political prisoners and ended decades of hostility with neighbouring Eritrea.
The 42-year-old leader has promised to give more room to opponents in a nation where there are no opposition lawmakers in parliament. He has also lifted a state of emergency put in place after his predecessor resigned in February following political protests since 2015 in which hundreds were killed by security forces.
"My dream and ambition is for democratic elections to be held. Otherwise, what legitimacy can any official have without the mandate earned through elections?" the 42-year-old leader said. "I do not believe that elections should be delayed until reforms are completed."
Opposition candidates did not win any seats in the 2015 vote. Before Abiy took office the government's crackdown on opposition parties was criticised by the United States and other governments that provide aid to the nation that has been racing to industrialise even as it struggles to feed itself.
Although many Ethiopians have cheered him for promising change, some political dissidents have voiced skepticism that political space will be opened as long as Abiy's ruling Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) remains in power.
Abiy said the EPRDF, which seized power in 1991 after toppling a military junta, planned to focus next year on "preparations for free elections to be held."
(Reporting by Aaron Maasho; Writing by Maggie Fick; Editing by Edmund Blair)
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Updated Date: Aug 26, 2018 00:06 AM