Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn resigned unexpectedly on Thursday, after years of upheaval in the troubled east African nation.
It was not yet clear who would replace Hailemariam, who has been in power since 2012. He also quit as chairman of the ruling coalition Ethiopian People Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF).
The unexpected move comes against the backdrop of violent anti-government protests and a nationwide state of emergency that started in October 2016.
“Unrest and political crisis have led to the loss of lives and displacement of many,” Hailemariam said in a short televised address. I see my resignation as vital in the bid to carry out reforms that would lead to sustainable peace and democracy.”
Hundreds of people died during protests that centered in the country’s Oromia and Amhara regions in 2015 and 2016. The demonstrations were sparked by a government-backed urban development plan for the capital Addis Ababa, which took over Oromo farmland. The Oromos, Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group, have been marginalized for decades.
Hailemariam declared the state of emergency – the first since the ruling party came into power 25 years prior – to quell the escalating violence. “We want to put an end to the damage that is being carried out against infrastructure projects, health centers, administration and justice buildings,” Hailemariam said at the time, according to local media reports.
But, more than a year on, there are still bouts of unrest in the country. Young men brandishing sticks and rocks blocked roads and businesses remained shut in Addis Ababa and Oromia earlier this week during a three day-strike, Agence-France Presse reported.
Hailemariam, 52, said he would stay on in a caretaker capacity until the EPRDF and the Parliament named a new prime minister, according to Reuters.
CNN’s Lindsay Isaac contributed to this report.