Ethiopia’s Meles Remembered For Development, Abuses

Posted August 21st, 2012 at 3:20 pm (UTC-5)
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World leaders are paying tribute to Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, who died late Monday after more than 20 years in power.

In a statement Tuesday, United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon said Mr. Meles will be remembered for “exceptional leadership” on African issues and overseeing his country's economic growth.

U.S. President Barack Obama said Mr. Meles deserves recognition for his contributions to Ethiopia's development and his commitment to helping the country's poor.

In his statement, Mr. Obama also said he is grateful for Mr. Meles' service for peace and security in Africa. That comment was echoed by the African Union, which noted the help Mr. Meles gave to Somalia's government and AU troops who are fighting the militant group al-Shabab.

None of the statements made note of Mr. Meles' human rights record. Human Rights Watch Tuesday said the late Ethiopian leader put economic development ahead of human rights. The group frequently criticized Mr. Meles for oppressing political opponents and the media.

A rebel group in Ethiopia's Ogaden region, the ONLF, said Mr. Meles caused “unimaginable suffering” to the Ogaden people, but suggested his death could lead to greater stability and peace.

Mr. Meles died in a hospital in Belgium. His body was taken to Brussels Tuesday to be transported to Ethiopia. Ethiopian officials say he died from an infection after suffering from a prolonged illness.

Speaking with VOA (Somali Service), government spokesman Bereket Simon declined to give further details.

“The prime minister had been sick for quite a while,” he said. “And he was attending medical support in, somewhere in, ah, abroad. And he had some chance in recuperating. But ultimately some infection happened to him and doctors couldn't control that infection.”

Bereket confirmed that Mr. Meles' former deputy, Hailemariam Desalegn, is taking over as prime minister.

Bereket said there is “no worry” about Ethiopia's future. He said the country's leaders are united and the government is “strong as ever.”

“The policies, the strategies, that have enabled us to register massive growth are in place,” he said. “The party is strong as ever, government is as strong as ever, the leadership is as united as ever. So there is no worry. There is no worry at all.”

Mr. Meles and his EPRDF alliance ruled Ethiopia for more than 20 years after taking power in a 1991 coup.