Eritrea’s government says the capital Asmara is “calm” a day after some 200 disaffected soldiers with two tanks surrounded the Ministry of Information, forcing the radio broadcast of a statement calling for the release of political prisoners and for the country’s 1997 constitution to be reinstated. State TV and radio were reportedly cut off shortly after the soldiers took control of the complex, and government websites were shut down. The site for the ruling People’s Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ) was also inaccessible. “All is calm today, as it was indeed yesterday,” said Yemane Gebremeskel, the director of President Issaias Afeworki’s office, in seeming denial that the incident had happened.
The leader of what was initially reported in the international media as an attempted coup was reportedly Saleh Osman, a leading figure during the 1998-2000 border war with Ethiopia. The whereabouts of either Osman or his followers is not currently clear. The affair comes weeks after Minister of Information, Ali Abdu, reportedly defected to Canada where he is seeking political asylum.
The UN estimates the number of political prisoners to be between 5,000 and 10,000 in the country of about six million. The 1997 constitution was suspended before it came into force, and Issaias Afeworki has been ruling since then with virtually no checks on his power. (DW, Al Jazeera, BDLive, BBC News, VOA, Daily Maverick, Johannesburg, Jan. 22; Sudan Tribune via AllAfrica, Jan. 21)