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Ethiopian Assembly Convenes

JERRY GRAYSeptember 9, 1987

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AP) _ Ethiopian leader Mengistu Haile Mariam convened his country’s first elected legislature Wednesday, clearing the way for an end to 13 years of military rule.

″A new chapter is opening in the long and uninterrupted history of our motherland,″ Mengistu said in welcoming thousands of people gathered in Congress Hall.

Mengistu presided over the session in his role as chairman of the Provisional Military Administrative Council, or PMAC, the clique of soldiers and politicians who have ruled here since a Marxist revolution ended the 44- year reign of Emperor Haile Selassie in 1974.

The military council is expected to surrender power Thursday to the National Shengo, a legislative body patterned on that of the Soviet Union, Ethiopia’s chief ally.

Congress Hall - built three years ago at the reported cost of $18 million to mark the 10th anniversary of the revolution - was packed with Shengo members, officials of the Workers’ Party of Ethiopia, military commanders and guests, including Presidents Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia, Hassan Gouled Aptidon of Djibouti and Hosni Mubarak of Egypt.

Soldiers lined the streets outside the building. Everyone entering Congress Hall, including Shengo members and diplomats, were searched twice and had to pass through a metal detector. All packages were examined.

A huge portrait of Mengistu and map of Ethiopia framed the stage where Mengistu and VIPs sat. Ethiopia’s green, yellow and red national flag formed a centerpiece.

Ethiopians voted June 14 to elect the Shengo from almost 2,500 candidates representing 833 districts.

The opening session lasted 4 1/2 hours with the 813 Shengo members adopting provisional rules of procedure and a draft agenda. They also elected a temporary 10-member presidium and listened to a two-hour report by Mengistu on the success of the 13-year military rule.

Mengistu, as president of the New People’s Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, retains wide-ranging power.

He continues as commander-in-chief of Ethiopia’s 220,000-member armed forces, the largest in Africa. The constitution also allows him to hire and fire other national officers without the consent of the Shengo ″when compelling circumstances warrant it.″

The Shengo is Ethiopia’s first legislative body since the military came to power Sept. 12, 1974. There was an assembly during Haile Selassie’s rule, but it was only a rubber-stamp body for the emperor.

Under the new civilian constitution, the Shengo is the supreme organ of state in Ethiopia. The one-chamber assembly sits once a year and members are elected for five-year terms.

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