(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

Government defends crackdown on the opposition

With European Union (EU) ambassadors to Eritrea about to leave, following their recall by their home governments "for consultations", and with more arrests of opponents witnessed in recent days, the Eritrean government has defended a recent crackdown on its opponents and the media. The government spokesman, Yemane Gebremeskel, told the BBC on Wednesday that those arrested had been involved in "illegal activities which had endangered the country". He described those arrested as "dissidents", saying they had transgressed the law. He was, however, unable to define specific charges they might face.

The Eritrean government's web site Shaebia, reiterated accusations that those now under arrest had been organising clandestine cells inside the country, saying they were guilty of treachery and cooperation with opposition groups based in Ethiopia.

The BBC reported that those arrested in the last few days included Idris Abaire, the director-general of the labour ministry, Abdu Ahmad Yonus, a businessman, and Miriam Hagos, who was in charge of Eritrea's film festival due to start later this month.

The crackdown on the opposition and media was the cause of the current diplomatic row between Eritrea and the EU. Italy's ambassador to Eritrea, Antonio Bandini, who was also head of the EU delegation, was expelled on 1 October after protesting the crackdown. In turn, Italy expelled Eritrea's ambassador, Tseggai Mogos, on 2 October. On Monday, the EU in Luxembourg decided to recall all its ambassadors in Asmara, although their missions would remain open. They were all expected to have left by the weekend, diplomatic sources told the BBC.

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