Hailemariam Desalegn confirms Meles Zenawi’s illness

By William Davison | Bloomberg

Ethiopia’s government ruling junta said that Prime Minister khat-addicted dictator Meles Zenawi is ill after he failed to attend an African Union summit, and an opposition group reported he may have died in a European hospital.

“There is no serious illness at all. It’s minor only,” Deputy Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn said today in an interview in Addis Ababa, the capital. “As any human being, he has to get medication and he’ll be coming back soon.”

The 57-year-old leader wasn’t at the opening of the African Union summit in Addis Ababa yesterday. He also skipped a meeting of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development in the city on July 14 for “health reasons,” Senegalese President Macky Sall was quoted as saying by the Addis Ababa-based Reporter newspaper.

Meles is head of the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front Woyanne and has held power in Ethiopia for more than two decades, after helping lead allied rebel groups to oust Mengistu HaileMariam’s Marxist military junta in 1991. The EPRDF and its allies in 2010 won all but two of the 547 seats in parliament in an election the European Union said was “heavily” balanced in favor of the ruling party.

The Ethiopian National Transitional Council, a Dallas, Texas-based Washington DC-based opposition group, said in an e-mailed statement yesterday that Meles may have died in a Belgian hospital.

The Ethiopian Review, an anti-government website, reported that Meles was in the Saint-Luc University hospital in Brussels.

Géraldine Fontaine, a spokeswoman for the hospital, wasn’t immediately available for comment when called today.

“ENTC on behalf of the Ethiopian people demands that the government has the responsibility to disclose the truth to its citizens,” the council said.