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Obama meets with Ethiopian leader to discuss regional conflicts

By Andrew V. Pestano
Obama meets with Ethiopian leader to discuss regional conflicts
U.S. President Barack Obama signed the African Growth and Opportunity Act shortly before his four-day trip to Kenya and Ethiopia. Obama met with Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, a U.S. ally against militant extremism who is accused of human rights violations. Photo by Aude Guerrucci/UPI | License Photo

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia, July 27 (UPI) -- U.S. President Barack Obama on Monday began talks with Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, a U.S. ally against militant extremism who is accused of human rights violations.

Obama arrived to Ethiopia on Sunday following his two-day visit to Kenya, where he urged Kenyans to move past ethnic divisions, discrimination against women and to overcome corruption. Obama was greeted by Desalegn at the Addis Ababa Bole International Airport -- the first trip to Ethiopia by a sitting U.S. president.

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Ethiopia has thousands of troops deployed across the border in Somalia, where security officials, part of the larger African Union Mission to Somalia coalition, combat al-Shabab militants.

Desalegn's government is accused of imprisoning journalists and critics. Ethiopia's ruling party, the EPRDF, and its allies won all parliamentary seats in the country's election in may, sparking claims of corruption.

Rights groups have urged Obama to put prioritize human rights issues during discussions with Desalegn.

"We don't want this visit to be used to sanitise an administration that has been known to violate human rights," Amnesty International's East Africa researcher Abdullahi Halakhe said.

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The civil war in South Sudan is also expected to be a topic of discussion between Obama, Desalegn and other regional leaders. Obama may call for tougher sanctions and a possible arms embargo if a peace deal is not struck.

Obama will address the 54-member African Union in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia's capital, on Tuesday.

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