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Tuesday, 17 April, 2001, 11:23 GMT 12:23 UK
Eritrean minister speaks out

By Alex Last in Asmara

A former Eritrean Government minister has openly criticised the president.

It is the first time in Eritrea that a leading politician has dared speak out against President Isaias Afewerki.

Mahmud Sherifo, who was sacked two months ago, said in an interview with a local newspaper that the president did not support the creation of political parties.

Mr Sherifo hinted that the reason for his dismissal as local government minister was his involvement with a committee drafting a law on political parties.

Democracy

The draft law details the rules for the establishment of political parties ahead of Eritrea's first general election in December.

Mr Sherifo outlined the events leading up to his sacking.

President Isaias Aferwerki
President Isaias's commitment to democracy has been questioned
He said President Isaias stopped publication of the draft laws and then sacked him before his committee met to discuss the delay in publication.

According to the Eritrean constitution, the draft laws have to be made public in order to be debated in open meetings around the country.

They then have to be ratified by the national assembly.

It is widely known that after this process there will be little time for political parties to form before the elections.

Response

Presidential adviser Yemane Gebremeskel said it was the prerogative of the president to appoint or sack any minister at any time.

He denied that there was any connection to the draft law.

Mr Sherifo was one of the highest-ranking members of the government before he was sacked in February.

There has been much speculation in Asmara as to the reasons for the sacking.

According to some Mr Sherifo was openly critical of the president during government meetings.

News of Mr Sherifo's interview spread rapidly around Asmara, with copies of the newspaper quickly selling out.

It is unheard of in Eritrea for a senior politician to speak out publicly against the ruling establishment.

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See also:

05 Apr 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Eritrea
30 Oct 00 | Africa
Eritrea confronts the future
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