Eritrean army tanks foil freedom call by dissidents (37044)

Jan. 22 (GIN) – Army tanks surrounded the information ministry in central Asmara on Monday, ending a brief takeover by mutineers who commandeered state TV to demand the release of political detainees.

Dissident Eritrean soldiers called on the government to free prisoners convicted of political crimes, numbering between 5,000 and 10,000 according to the U.N.

Some observers doubted that the takeover was an attempt to overthrow the government of Eritrea, led by Isaias Afewerki, 66, for about two decades since it broke away from neighbor Ethiopia.

“There were no shootings,” Eritrean-American journalist Salem Solomon told the Al Jazeera news wire. “The main opposition to the government is coming from people who are abroad….In Eritrea, there hasn’t been much resistance.”

Selam Kidane, an Eritrean activist and director of the human rights group, Release Eritrea, told Al Jazeera that those that took part in the takeover were young people fed up with the situation in the country.

“These were young soldiers – new recruits and those who were forced into the army,” she said. “Instead of fleeing the country as in the past, they are now standing up and acting.” One of Africa’s smallest nations, Eritrea has one of the largest armies in the region due to national service that continues for many years, sometimes indefinitely for both men and women.

There is no independent media in Eritrea. All public programs are recorded and broadcast from the ministry.