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Tuesday, 18 September, 2001, 17:40 GMT 18:40 UK
Eritrea silences critics
President Isaias Afewerki of Eritrea
Afewerki has arrested some those who fought along side him
By Alex Last in Asmara

The authorities in Eritrea have arrested six former members of the ruling People's Front for Democracy and Justice, and announced the closure of privately run newspapers.

The group, including ex-ministers and generals, were among 15 people sacked in May after they criticised President Isaias Afewerki and called for political reform and accountability.


I remember the joy of independence day in 1991, the hopes we had for the future. What has happened is terrible. This is the saddest day of my life

Ex-Liberation Front member
They were picked up in their homes at 0600 local time on Tuesday morning.

The government has announced that some arrests were made of people causing damage and confusion in the country.

No mention was made of their names, how many arrests were made or where they are being held.

Founding members

Among those detained was Petros Solomon, who had held all the top government posts, Haile Woldensae, the former Trade and Industry Minister, Mohammed Sherifo, the former head of local government.

Among the three top soldiers arrested was Major General Ogbe Abraha, former Chief of Staff of the EPLF in the independence war.

Eritrean soldiers
Pro-reformists have criticised handling of war with Ethiopia

All six were among the founding members of the Eritrean liberation movement which has run the country since independence.

But over the years dissatisfaction within the elite has been growing especially over the conduct of the war with Ethiopia.

State media has made no comment on the arrests.

Also on Tuesday, the government announced that private pro-reform newspapers will be closed as from Wednesday.

Untouchable

Eritreans from all over the country, wrote letters to the newspapers, which were published, criticising and debating issues which were previously considered untouchable.

The leaders of the reform movement also gave interviews to the private press explaining why they came out and called for change.

Ali Abdu, head of Eritrean television, said that the newspapers had been given time "to correct their mistakes", but were not abiding by the press code.

He said they were being closed in the interest of national unity.

New minister

The announcement of the newspaper closures has surprised many in Asmara, though the appointment last week of a new Minister of Information, Naizgy Kiflu, a former security chief, was regarded by some Eritrean journalists as a hint of the government's future policy.

On the streets of Asmara, people are quietly discussing the days events. Of the dozens of people I asked to comment, almost all declined. But many were shocked and saddened by the news.

A former member of the Eritrea Liberation Front said: " I remember the joy of Independence day in 1991, the hopes we had for the future. What has happened is terrible. This is one of the saddest day of my life."

The reaction of the army will be important for the future, though it is impossible to discern at this time.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Alex Last
"The unprecedented actions have shocked many Eritreans"
See also:

31 May 01 | Africa
Dissent surfaces in Eritrea
11 Nov 99 | Africa
Fall of the Wall echoes in Africa
17 Apr 01 | Africa
Eritrean minister speaks out
30 Oct 00 | Africa
Eritrea confronts the future
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