Ethiopian PM Meles Zenawi dies after illness


Meles Zenawi was interviewed by the BBC in 2008

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Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi has died aged 57 in a hospital abroad, the government says.

It did not give details but an EU spokesman later told journalists Mr Meles had died in Brussels, Belgium.

Mr Meles had not been seen in public for weeks and speculation about his health mounted when he missed a summit in Addis Ababa last month.

His deputy, Hailemariam Desalegn, becomes prime minister until elections due in 2015, state media reported.

Mr Meles took power as the leader of rebels that ousted communist leader Mengistu Haile Mariam in 1991.

He is credited with spearheading economic development in Ethiopia - but, critics charge, at the price of respect for human rights.


Meles Zenawi's death will have repercussions far beyond his country.

He was undeniably central to everything in Ethiopia - the good and the bad, the economic growth and development, as well as the repressive climate denounced by opposition politicians and journalists.

But he also played a key role in the region.

Since Mr Meles took power in 1991, Ethiopia has seen Eritrea secede, then fought a war with the new country. It also twice sent troops into Somalia to fight militants linked to al-Qaeda.

Ethiopia also has peacekeepers in Abyei, the border region claimed by both Sudan and South Sudan.

Political leaders in all these countries will be carrying out rapid calculations about what Mr Meles' death means for them.

The West has also lost a key ally in the Horn of Africa.

Now the attention will switch to whether Mr Meles built a strong enough system to outlast him.

He was austere and hardworking, with a discipline forged from years spent in the guerrilla movement - and almost never smiled, says Elizabeth Blunt, the BBC's former correspondent in Addis Ababa.

Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said Mr Meles was an "intellectual leader for the continent", and UK Prime Minister David Cameron called him "an inspirational spokesman for Africa" who had lifted millions out of poverty.

But a spokesman for al-Shabab Islamist militants in Somalia - where Mr Meles twice sent troops to fight - told Reuters news agency they were "very glad" of his death, saying Ethiopia was "sure to collapse".

Ethiopia's Council of Ministers announced "with great sadness the untimely death of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi" in a statement, state TV reported.

The statement said Mr Meles had been receiving medical treatment abroad for the past two months and that his health was improving. But he developed a "sudden infection" on Sunday and despite emergency treatment, died at 23:40 on Monday.

European Commission spokesman Olivier Bailly later told a regular news briefing that Mr Meles "passed away during the night here in Brussels".

Start Quote

It's a very, very sad day for the people of the Republic of South Sudan and the people of the East African region as a whole”

End Quote Barnaba Benjamin South Sudanese Information Minister

Over some eight weeks that Mr Meles had been absent from the public eye, concerns about his health had grown, and in July he was said to have been admitted to hospital.

Reports suggested he was in hospital in the Belgian capital suffering a stomach complaint but these were never confirmed by the Ethiopian authorities.

Three weeks ago, government spokesman Bereket Simon dismissed reports Mr Meles was critically ill, and declined to give any details about Mr Meles's whereabouts.

A period of mourning had been declared until the funeral, for which no date has been announced.

State television said his body would be flown to Addis Ababa later on Tuesday.

Instability concerns

Mr Hailemariam, who is also Ethiopia's foreign minister, will become acting prime minister, government spokesman Bereket Simon told reporters.

He said an election was not necessary as the "constructional procedure" allowed for Mr Hailemariam to "kick off as a full-fledged prime minister".

In an earlier news conference, Mr Bereket said Mr Meles had struggled with illness for a year, but he had continued to work regardless.

Concerns have been expressed - including by Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga - that Mr Meles's death could lead to a power vacuum and dangerous instability in Ethiopia.

But Mr Bereket insisted the country was stable and that "everything will continue as charted" by the late prime minister.

This theme was echoed by state television, which stated that "even if Ethiopia has been badly affected for missing its great leader, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi initiated fundamental policies and strategies which will be further strengthened".

Ethiopia's economy has grown rapidly in recent years, despite the secession of Eritrea and the subsequent war between the two countries.

Meles Zenawi

  • Emerged from Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), which carried out armed struggle against Communist military regime in 1970s and 1980s
  • Became president in a transitional government in 1991 and then prime minister in 1995
  • Married another TPLF veteran, Azeb Mesfin, and had three children
  • Under his leadership, a closed and secretive country gradually opened to the outside world
  • But reputation tarnished in 2000s amid increasing repression in Ethiopia

Under Mr Meles, Ethiopia became a staunch US ally, receiving hundreds of millions of dollars in aid over the years, and hosting the US military drones that patrol East Africa.

He won accolades from the West for sending troops to battle Islamist militants in Somalia, says the BBC's James Copnall.

But concern had been growing about the lack of democracy and human rights in Ethiopia, our correspondent in the region says.

At least 200 people died in the violence that followed the 2005 elections, and many journalists and politicians have been locked up.

One rights critic, Commander Assefa Seifu, called Mr Meles "a devil incarnate".

"He was always talking about democracy, civil rights, adherence to [the] constitution and the like. But it was only a lip service," he told the BBC.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 177.

    I lived in Ethiopia in the time of the despot Haile Selassie. It's a fantastic country of very nice people. The Queen of Sheba came from Ethiopia. Sheba in old Amharic means Paradise. The elections must now come soon. Ethiopians must choose a leader for the next 5 years - but not elect another power mad dictator who clings on to office forever. They must make peace with Eritrea & stabalise Somalia

  • rate this

    Comment number 176.

    I am so sad to hear the death of PM Meles Zenawi. Despite the limitations in his contributions to democracy and human rights, he has been a great leader with great vision to the country. His contribution to economic development and stability are spectacular. I argue the limitations in Democracy emanate not only from the party but also from the secretive and conservative nature of the society.

  • rate this

    Comment number 175.

    PM Meles Zenawi was the master mind of the new Ethiopian government which is emerging and shining as Ethiopia proceeds in its development plans. Rest in peace PM Meles Zenawi.

  • rate this

    Comment number 174.


    The West can always find an aly in Ethiopia, but we Ethiopians would have remained under a half Eritrean hate monger meles... Yes now that over, it should be like that that he died with his ethnic minority (Tigrean)apartheid rule. Its time for Ethiopians to intensify the already existing resistance to the Ethnic apartheid-rule of Meles's Tigrean.

  • rate this

    Comment number 173.

    His political party is a combination people from all regions of Ethiopia. some few people don't like him just because he is not from a specific region they want him to be. But he is Ethiopian that is all that matters he is a great leader who gave his whole life for his country. Ethiopia &
    Africa lost a true hero and patriot and great mind and also most misunderstood person by the hatters. R.I.P

  • rate this

    Comment number 172.

    he was a smart man and also dangerous but by the end of the day he is dead.

  • rate this

    Comment number 171.

    We all Ethiopians living here in addis knows what we lost today despite some of those who lived abroad and wish to hear hate and see public riot as their daily morning news feed. Even tho we lost our great leader and mentor, we have already learned how to respect and live together as a strong nation.Zenawi has created so many strong individuals who can lead and maintain stability. THANKS & RIP

  • rate this

    Comment number 170.

    PM Meles was visionary and ambitious is really a day of remorse for all Ethiopians.what most people didn't understand is world is all about balance.when u r leader only few choices are possible and i personally believe Meles balanced his wrong measures wiz other better achievements that made us logical when we say he was great leader.RIP Meles

  • rate this

    Comment number 169.

    Brilliant, for his success regarding the economic development, very poor regarding human rights and democracy. May he rest in peace!

  • rate this

    Comment number 168.

    RIP to the Prime Minister Meles Zenawi.. & RIP to the hundreds of people he murdered also i'm shedding crocodile tears over the demise of the crocodile liberator, Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia.

  • rate this

    Comment number 167.

    Dissident groups have emerged; Meles has arrested & sentenced to long jail terms several dissidents, journalists, Oromo nationalists & Islamic activists, classifying them as terrorists. While opposition & discontent have been growing in Ethiopia, dissident groups have been relatively weak. Demise of Meles could embolden the opposition, accentuating ethnic & religious cleavages.

  • rate this

    Comment number 166.

    He is really a smart leader. No leader before him put Ethiopia into a better situation.No one here in Ethiopia listen for those who bark sitting abroad. We will continue putting our effort in achieving the GTP.
    RIP my PM.

  • rate this

    Comment number 165.

    oh Melese, ... Today is a tough day for us, you are a great and visionary leader not only for Ethiopia but for Africa, I hope we Ethiopian will keep our promise what you want that Ethiopia look like.

  • rate this

    Comment number 164.

    Everything that goes up must come down. But there comes a time when not everything that's down, no matter what, can come up. May God has mercy on him. All are his children. Let us pray for his soul and Ethiopia. May lord have mercy on all her people as well. We thank USA for being the home of many and having Ethiopians in the USA is a blessing for all of us here. Be blessed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 163.

    Finally he even is mortal. I am not happy b/c he is dead! I am happy he step down from power!! We are not even confident to use the social medias. His government is against anyone who try to express freedom of press!! Now he is dead but Ethiopia will live forever!!
    One dictator is gone, we do not want to see another dictator to take the power!! we had enough!!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 162.

    I'd be having a peaceful sleep thinking Africa is one dictator less today. Mubark, Gadaffi and now Meles. May it continue. Amen.

  • rate this

    Comment number 161.

    The man has never lived a Minot for his self he lived his whole life to his country who said political life is fun who said living in palace is fun no its not his excellency lived his life for as so we Ethiopians we have lost great leader may his soul rest in heaven ...........

  • rate this

    Comment number 160.

    WHO? Perhaps at peace, but his people are still suffering will be my guess.....Will know better when I hear the knock at my door with a JUGGER....

  • rate this

    Comment number 159.

    Looking at the mix opinions among Ethiopians posting here it seems he was as tribalist as most African leaders. Apartheid was just a more visible form that took more flak!

  • rate this

    Comment number 158.

    Oddly enough, stability in Ethiopia is founded on strength of its military as well as SUPPORT FROM U.S. Meles violent crackdown on demonstrations in 2005 following (allegedly) rigged election was indicative of this, while the 2010 elections cemented one-party rule with a vengeance in the form of repression, quashing dissenting voices & shutting down of independent media.


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