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Longtime Ethiopian prime minister dies suddenly

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
August 22nd, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Longtime Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, who ruled Ethiopia for 21 of his 57 years, has died while undergoing treatment for an undisclosed illness. Ethiopian Information Minister Simon Bereket said Zenawi died from a sudden infection while recovering from the illness at a hospital abroad.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - "It's a sad day for Ethiopia, the man who led our country for the past 21 years and brought economic and democratic changes, has died. We have lost our respected leader," Bereket read on state television.

"Meles has been receiving treatment abroad. He was getting better and we were expecting him to return to Addis Ababa. But he developed a sudden infection and died around 11:40 p.m. last night.

"His body will be returned to Ethiopia soon. We have set up a committee to organize his funeral. More information will be released about that soon."

In the meantime, Deputy Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn will be the acting prime minister.

"As per Ethiopian law, Hailemariam Desalegn has now taken over the leadership. He will also be in charge of the Ethiopian military and all other government institutions," Bereket said.

"I would like to stress, nothing in Ethiopia will change. The government will continue. Our policies and institutions will continue. Nothing will change in Ethiopia. Desalegn will be confirmed by parliament."

Zenawi had missed a couple of important public events prior to the announcement of his death. Rumors about his Zenawi's health started to rise during the African Union summit where he failed to appear.

Zenawi had been in power after overthrowing Mengistu Haile Mariam's military junta in 1991, and served as president from 1991 to 1995, when he became prime minister.

Zenawi was credited with Ethiopia's economic boom in the past decade, with economic growth shooting from 3.8 percent in the 1990s to 10 percent in 2010.

Zenawi had regularly been criticized by human rights organizations who accused him of gross abuses against ethnic minorities, such as his nation's ethnic Somalis in the eastern Ogaden region.

Zenawi ruled with an iron fist. In 2005, nearly 200 people died in a crackdown on demonstrations by the opposition, who accused Meles of rigging elections.

Zenawi was never afraid to make full use of his country's powerful and well-equipped army.

After overseeing the independence of Eritrea from Ethiopia in 1993, Zenawi returned to war, with a 1998-2000 border war leaving tens of thousands dead.

Zenawi also invaded longtime Ethiopian foe Somalia, sending troops and tanks to topple an Islamist regime in 2006, before pulling out the following year in the face of guerrilla attacks. He sent Ethiopian troops back into Somalia in 2011.

Unlike many of his fellow African leaders, Zenawi lived a relatively Spartan lifestyle. Former U.S. President Bill Clinton once called him a "Renaissance leader," while a leaked 2009 U.S. diplomatic cable described him as "quiet, deliberative and certainly not a 'man about town'", adding he was a "voracious reader and very introspective."

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