The death of Ethiopia's 57-year-old Prime Minister Meles Zenawi has raised fears of fresh political crisis in the Horn of Africa country.

Following Zenawi's sudden death, deputy prime minister Hailemariam Dessalegn has swiftly been appointed as premier - but only on a caretaker basis.

Dessalegn, the first Protestant Christian prime minister in Ethiopia's history, is a member of the Wolyata ethnic group which predominates in the south of the country. In contrast, most of Ethiopia's political elite are drawn from the northern Tigrayan and Amharic tribes.

The new prime minister, 47, originally trained as an engineer, and is far less experienced than his predecessor. Furthermore, uncertainty still surrounds Zenawi's passing, with no reason yet given for his death.

Ethiopia's ruling party, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (ERPDF) is expected to meet over the next few weeks in order to establish a smooth political transition. However, the country's neighbours appear to believe it is heading for turbulence.

Kenyan prime minister Raila Odinga said: "One fears for the stability of Ethiopia upon his [Zenawi's] death, because you know that the Ethiopian state is fairly fragile and there is a lot of ethnic violence ... I don't know that [Ethiopian politicians] are sufficiently prepared for a succession.

"This is my fear - that there may be a falling out within the ruling movement."

The Somalian group Al Shabab, which has been locked in fighting with Ethiopian troops for several months, has welcomed the news about Zenawi.

A spokesperson for the Islamists told Reuters: "We are very glad about Meles' death. Ethiopia is sure to collapse."