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Friday, 1 February, 2002, 19:23 GMT
Eritrea rules out political parties
President Isaias Afewerki of Eritrea
Dissidents accuse the president of being a dictator
By Alex Last in Asmara

The Eritrean National Assembly has decided not to allow political parties to be created, at least for the near future.

Decisions taken by the assembly, which was convened this week for the first time in 18 months, are seen as crucial to determine the future of Eritrea in the light of the recent clampdown on dissent.

All the members of the National Assembly are members of the former liberation movement which now rules the country.

It is the only political organisation allowed in Eritrea.

Near the end of its meeting, which began on Tuesday, the issue of allowing political parties, elections and the press were all up for discussion.

But the government press reported that the assembly had agreed that political parties were not important to Eritrea at this time and decided to postpone ratification of a law which was intended to define the rules for their establishment.

Backing Isaias

The assembly did however finally approve the electoral law technically allowing Eritrea's first elections to go ahead, but still no date has been decided.

Eritrean soldiers
Since the border war with Ethiopia there has been political unrest

Eritrea had been due to hold multi-party elections in December 2001.

The assembly also said that a new committee would look at the future of the press in Eritrea, all private newspapers have been closed since September.

In the end the news from the assembly was not very surprising.

Despite furious pleas from the political groups outside Eritrea for the National Assembly to be critical, the meeting still endorsed the actions of the Eritrean President Isaias Afewerki who over recent months has arrested dissidents, journalists and closed the private press.

The assembly's decision is unlikely to raise a visible domestic reaction but it will further alienate those sympathetic to the dissidents and it's hardly likely to endear Eritrea to the international community which is already cutting development aid in response to the crackdown on dissent.

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
21 Sep 01 | Africa
Concern over Eritrea detainees
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