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Thursday, 31 May, 2001, 19:37 GMT 20:37 UK
Dissent surfaces in Eritrea
Eritrean President Isaias Afewerki
The president has never faced such scathing public attack
Dissent within the ruling party in Eritrea has come out in the open for the first time since the People's Front for Democracy and Justice took power 10 years ago.

An internal letter to party members, containing an unprecedented attack on President Isaias Afewerki, was leaked to a web site.


This crisis is the result of the weaknesses of the PFDJ and the government, and the invasion of our country

Ruling party internal letter
Fifteen senior members of the party, including government ministers and army generals, accused the president of working in an illegal and unconstitutional manner.

The signatories said Mr Isaias had consistently refused to allow collective leadership, and failed to convene legislative bodies intended to regulate presidential powers.

"It is obvious that our country is in a crisis," the letter said.

"This crisis is the result of the weaknesses of the PFDJ and the government, and the invasion of our country by the enemy."

'Party mechanisms ignored'

The PFDJ, the post-independence face of the Eritrean liberation movement, is the country's leading and only political movement.

All senior members of the government belong to it.

The party is famous for its public unity and its dislike of open dissent from within its ranks.

Mechanisms to check the actions of the president and the party are part of the movement, in the form of councils, committees and congresses.

These have been ignored, according to the letter.

Debates on the manner and direction of Eritrean politics have been going on for some time, especially since the war with Ethiopia.

But the BBC's Alex Last in Asmara says they have always done so behind closed doors, and this is the first time there has been public airing of well-known grievances in 10 years of independence.

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See also:

17 Apr 01 | Africa
Eritrean minister speaks out
23 May 01 | Africa
Timeline: Eritrea
23 May 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Eritrea
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