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Reports: Eritrea troops lay siege to ministry

Dissident soldiers take over information ministry and force state media to call for the release of political prisoners.

(Al Jazeera )A group of dissident Eritrean soldiers have laid siege to the information ministry and forced the state media to announce a call for the release of political prisoners, according to a senior Eritrean intelligence official.

The renegade soldiers forced the director of state television to make an announcement, the intelligence official said.

“The soldiers have forced him to speak on state TV, to say the Eritrean government should release all political prisoners,” the source said on condition of anonymity.

Dozens of soldiers with two tanks surrounded the ministry building in Asmara, regional diplomatic sources said.

They said state television and radio had gone off air.

Araya Desta, Eritrea’s permanent representative to the UN, said: “There is no problem. Everything is quiet. Everything is going to be solved. It is all fine.”

A statement from the US embassy in Asmara said it “is aware of press reports that tanks have reportedly surrounded some ministry buildings but cannot confirm all the reports. The situation remains fluid”.

There was no immediate indication it was an attempt to overthrow the government of Eritrea, which has been led by Isaias Afewerki, 66, for some two decades since it broke away from bigger neighbour Ethiopia.

Opaque country

The UN last year estimated that 5-10,000 political prisoners were being held in the Horn of Africa country, which is accused by human rights groups of carrying out torture and summary executions.

The Red Sea state, which declared independence from Ethiopia after a long war, is one of the most opaque countries on the continent and it restricts access to foreign reporters.

Eritrean opposition activists exiled in neighbouring Ethiopia said there was growing dissent within the Eritrean military, especially over economic hardships.

“Economic issues have worsened and have worsened relations between the government and soldiers in the past few weeks and months,” one activist said.

The UN Security Council imposed an embargo on Eritrea in 2009 over concerns its government was funding and arming al-Shabaab rebels in neighbouring Somalia – charges Eritrea denied.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

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