Eritreans in UK Rally in Support of Army Mutiny

Photo: United Nations
President of Eritrea, Isaias Afwerki (file photo).

London — Activists say that over 2,000 Eritreans including opposition politicians' held a demonstration in London on Tuesday seeking democratic change in one of the world's most politically repressive nations.

In an email sent to Sudan Tribune, organisers said the rallies were in support of last week's siege at the ministry of information in Asmara by dissident soldiers.

On Monday 21 January, some 200 Eritrean soldiers with two tanks occupied Eritrea's ministry of information and took over the state-owned Eritrean Radio and Television Agency and aired a statement demanding for the release of all political prisoners and the implementation of the 1997 constitution.

Tuesday's demonstration in London aimed to send a clear message to the dissident army that the Eritrean diaspora is on their side.

Demonstrators chanted for president Isaias Afewerki, who has held office since 1993 following Eritrea's independence from Ethiopia, to step down.

Organisers also called on all Eritreans across the world to hold similar protests and extend the necessary support to the exiled opposition to bring change in Eritrea.

This is a second demonstration to be held in London in less than a week. On Thursday protesters stormed the Eritrean embassy in London and briefly occupied it after staging demonstrations outside the building.

Once inside, protesters pulled down and tore up photos of president Afewerki.

The dissident soldiers, who are reportedly led by General Saleh Osman, ended their siege at the media agency after they were surrounded by troops loyal to the president.

They were asked to peacefully return to their bases first and told their demands would be negotiated later.

Various media networks have reported that the mutiny was over and calm has been restored. However, unconfirmed sources coming out of Eritrea say the mutineers left the ministry of information only after the regime in Asmara promised to meet their demands and that the two sides are currently in negotiations.

Hailay Nuguss, who is a journalist and politician, told Sudan Tribune that the incident in Asmara last Monday cannot be called a coup plot.

"The staged siege had no violence and no single shot was fired. It was a brief take-over of the state media," he said, adding "we can't consider that [the siege] as a coup plot but it was a demand for political reforms".

It is very difficult to get information about the secretive Eritrean nation - also referred as Africa's North Korea by some press freedom groups - as the East African country does not allow any independent news sources to operate.

However, opposition websites are reporting that the Eritrean government has detained dozens of people, including regional governors and senior military officials following the mutiny.

The opposition websites alleged that Mustafa Nurhussein, governor of the Southern region, and Abdella Jaber, director of organisational affairs for the ruling People's Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ), were among those detained following the mutiny.

According to Human Rights Watch, the Red Sea nation, referred to by right groups as a "giant prison", has an estimated 5,000 to 10,000 political prisoners.

The mutiny, the country's first since it gained independence from Ethiopia in 1993, came just a few weeks after Eritrea's information minister, Ali Abdu, fled the country and sought asylum in Canada.

There has been no an official comment from government over the incident so far.

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