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As Ethiopia looks beyond strongman Meles, fears of instability (+video)

Ethiopia was an economic success story under Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, who died Monday. His two-decade authoritarian grip may complicate a peaceful political transition.

Thousands of mourners gather as the body of Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi arrives in the capital.
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The death this week of Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi has raised concerns about whether the imposing but brittle system he devised and dominated will unravel following his departure, leading to turmoil in America's major ally in the Horn of Africa.

Although Ethiopia has been peaceful during the two decades of his rule, especially when compared with neighboring Sudan and Somalia, critics suggest that Mr. Meles's autocratic style means the stress-test of political transition could destabilize one of the continent's economic success stories. 

"The successor issue will be the true test of the coherence of [Meles's party] during peacetime," says Kjetil Tronvoll, an Ethiopia expert at the International Law and Policy Institute in Oslo, Norway. Avoidance of a power struggle will indicate the "party's maturity and its capacity and capability to rule Ethiopia for years to come." 

Meles, who was 57 and died after illness, led the country after allied rebel groups overthrew a Marxist military junta in 1991. His Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), which spearheaded the insurgency, then dominated politics as the core of a four-party multiethnic ruling coalition.

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