By Addis Getachew
ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AA) - The much-anticipated referendum for statehood of the Sidama zone began on Wednesday, with voters forming long queues at polling stations since early morning.
Scores of people were killed in stand-off with security forces last September after youths in Sidama -- the largest of 56 ethnic groups in the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples Regional State (SNNPRS) -- declared a de facto state.
As violence spread, the federal government intervened and declared that the military takes control of the region until the situation calms down.
Shitaye Chebula -- an election coordinator in the lakeside city of Hawassa, the regional capital which sits at the heart of the Sidama zone -- told Anadolu Agency over the phone that voters took it to polling stations since 4.00 a.m. local time (0100 GMT).
"The voting began at 6.00 a.m. [0300GMT] and people are flocking to polling stations," Chebula said, adding there have been calm and order in the city and elsewhere in the Sidama zone.
About 2.3 million people are registered to cast their votes.
The referendum determines whether Sidama people will have their own regional state government. There are seven regional states in the country along with two autonomous city administrations of Dire Dawa and Addis Ababa.
Earlier, Amnesty International called on Ethiopian authorities to "[...] take all appropriate measures to ensure a peaceful vote, including preventing excessive use of force by the security forces."