US President Barack Obama Tuesday offered his condolences to Ethiopia over the death of the country’s prime minister, Meles Zenawi, and hailed his contribution to the east African country.

The 57-year-old Ethiopian leader died Monday night following a sudden infection while recovering in a hospital abroad, Ethiopian state TV reported Tuesday. He had not appeared in public in the last two months because of an unspecified illness.

“It was with sadness that I learned of the passing of prime minister Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia,” Xinhua quoted Obama as saying in a statement released by the White House. “Prime Minister Meles deserves recognition for his lifelong contribution to Ethiopia’s development, particularly his unyielding commitment to Ethiopia’s poor.”

Offering his condolences, Obama reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to the partnership with Ethiopia.

Zenawi was the president of Ethiopia’s transitional government from 1991 to 1995, after which he was elected as the country’s prime minister and he remained at the post ever since.

According to Ethiopian state TV, Deputy Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn will now be acting prime minister.

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