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Wednesday, 10 October, 2001, 17:23 GMT 18:23 UK
Eritrea defends political crackdown
President Isaias Afewerki of Eritrea
The EU has criticised Mr Afewerki for political repression
The Eritrean Government has defended a crackdown on dissidents which shows no signs of abating with the detention of at least three more prominent Eritreans in the past few days.

Eritrean government spokesman Yemane Gebremeskel told the BBC that those arrested had been involved in illegal activities which had endangered the country.

Eleven former ministers, eight journalists and at least four business people have been arrested in the past month.

Mr Yemane said that the dissidents had gone beyond the law, but would not give any specifics nor details of the charges they might face.

He said other dissidents, who had gone to live abroad, were free to return to Eritrea, but warned that if they were guilty of illegal activities they would have to face the law.

He also denied that dissidents in the country were being muzzled by the government.

Arrests

The BBC's Alex Last, the only foreign correspondent still in Eritrea, says the latest arrests include Idriss Abaire, the director-general of the Ministry of Labour who was arrested on Friday according to sources close to Mr Idriss.

He says that Mr Idriss, a veteran who was wounded in the liberation war, made one public criticism of the government which came some months ago in a debate on whether to have children educated in their indigeneous languages.

Another detainee is an elderly businessman, Abdu Ahmed Yonus, who had signed a letter written by Eritrean elders to the president urging reconcilliation with the dissidents.

He was arrested by plainclothes security on Saturday, sources close to him confirmed.

He was also known to be a friend of Hassan Keckia another prominent businessman who was arrested two weeks ago.

Diplomatic sources have also confirmed the surprising arrest of Miriam Hagos, who was in charge of the Eritrea's International film festival due to begin later this month.

She has not been involved in the public debate on the state of the country which was aired in private newspapers before they were closed.

Treachery

On Wednesday, the government website Shaebia re-iterated accusations that the dissidents were organising clandestine cells inside the country and inside the armed forces.

It also accused them of treachery, including co-operating with opposition groups which were supported by Ethiopia.

Ambassadors of European Union states have now begun leaving Eritrea after being recalled for consultations.

The move is a rebuke to the government in Asmara followings criticism of Eritrea from Brussels over the political crackdown.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Alex Last
"A recall for consultations is understood to be a clear rebuke to the country in question"
Yemane Gebremeskal
"People were going beyond the law"
BBC's Alex Last in Asmara
"Three prominent Eritreans have been detained"
See also:

03 Oct 01 | Africa
Eritrean dissident set for return
08 Oct 01 | Africa
Eritrea denies preparing for war
02 Oct 01 | Africa
Italy expels Eritrea's ambassador
02 Oct 01 | Africa
Eritrea plays down diplomatic row
01 Oct 01 | Africa
Eritrea expels Italian ambassador
21 Sep 01 | Africa
Concern over Eritrea detainees
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