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Eritrea mutiny over as government, opposition say "all calm"

A woman walks in a street adjacent to the Cathedral and Catholic Mission compound in Asmara on July 3, 2007. AFP PHOTO / Peter MARTELL

NAIROBI: Eritrea's government said Tuesday that all was calm in the capital Asmara a day after armed mutineers seized the information ministry, with opposition sites saying the stand-off was settled.

"All is calm today, as it was indeed yesterday," said Yemane Gebremeskel, the director of Eritrean President Issaias Afeworki's office, in a message to AFP.

Opposition website Awate.com, based in the United States but with close connections inside Eritrea, said that the commander of around 100 rebel soldiers had agreed to surrender.

"The face-off was 'solved' when the government 'accepted his terms'" Awate said, although there were no further details as to what will happen next.

The reports were impossible to confirm independently, and it was not clear if the mutineers had formally surrendered.

Amanuel Ghirmai, an Eritrean journalist in Paris for independent Radio Erena, said that army mutineers stormed the hill-top ministry -- which towers over the capital of the Red Sea state -- early on Monday morning.

They reportedly ordered news readers at the government-run television and radio station -- the only source of media for the authoritarian state -- to read a statement that they would implement the country's constitution.

The statement also reportedly ordered the release of prisoners of conscience.

However, while the state-run Eri-TV television and radio broadcasts were taken off air Monday, they had resumed broadcasting on Tuesday, several sources said.

"Eri-TV, under regime loyalists, has resumed broadcasting live," added Awate. "All Ministry of Information employees have been released."

Multiple sources reported that one of those held inside the information ministry was the daughter of Issaias, who has ruled the Horn of Africa nation with an iron grip from independence in 1993, following an epic 30-year liberation war from neighbouring Ethiopia.

Awate claimed the mutineers were led by an army commander called Saleh Osman, a hero of the bloody 1998-2000 border war with Ethiopia, when he refused orders to abandon the key southern port of Assab, defending it and beating back invading Ethiopians.

"The 'uprising' appears to have been a case of Saleh Osman trying to jolt back negotiations for democratisation he had been having with the president's office that have stalled," Awate added.

 

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