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Monday, 1 October, 2001, 03:35 GMT 04:35 UK
Eritrea expels Italian ambassador
President Isaias Afewerki of Eritrea
Mr Afewerki has cracked down on internal dissent
Eritrea has asked Italy's ambassador to leave the country after he and other European ambassadors protested over alleged human rights violations in the country.

Italy's Foreign Ministry said it appeared that Ambassador Antonio Bandini was singled out because he also acts as the dean of the European Union diplomatic corps in Asmara.

The EU ambassadors had protested against the Eritrean Government's crackdown on the opposition ahead of elections scheduled for December.

At least 11 opposition politicians and seven journalists working for independent newspapers have been arrested.

A number of university student leaders were also detained.

Critics accused

The 11 opposition figures were among 15 former senior officials of the ruling People's Front for Democracy and Justice party, who openly criticised President Isaias Afewerki's government in May.

They signed a public letter calling on the government to institute democratic reforms and accountability and they criticised his handling of the devastating war with neighbouring Ethiopia.

Adult education class in Eritrea
Students were also detained
The Eritrean Government has accused the detainees of holding meetings in the United States to recruit members to join a secret opposition group.

They were also accused of planning to create secret cells to infiltrate various organisations in the country, including the Eritrean defence forces.

They were arrested nearly two weeks ago and their whereabouts are unknown.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have criticised the arrests.

Amnesty said the arrests and the closure of the country's private press was an indication of growing repression of dissent in Eritrea.

See also:

21 Sep 01 | Africa
Concern over Eritrea detainees
19 Sep 01 | Africa
More reformists held in Eritrea
18 Sep 01 | Africa
Eritrea silences critics
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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