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The death of Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi triggered mixed reaction from civic society, activists and political parties on Tuesday.
News of the death of the long-time ruler of the east African state drew commiseration on one side, but condemnation from the other for his tainted human rights record.
Amnesty International researcher on Ethiopia, Claire Beston, said Zenawi's 21-year rule was characterised by widespread human rights violations and the crushing of dissenting voices.
“Ethiopia's jails are packed to the seams with suspected political opponents, from urban intellectuals to rural farmers. Torture and ill-treatment are commonplace,” she said.
“State resources, assistance and opportunities have been broadly used to control the population. Tens of thousands of Ethiopians were forced to flee the country during his rule,” she said.
Beston urged Ethiopians to seize the opportunity presented by Zenawi's death to change the course of the country and usher in a new era of greater respect for human rights.
Following Zenawi's death, the Ethiopian government announced that Deputy Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegne would take over the reins, in the interim.
Former secretary general of the United Nations and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Kofi Annan said the death of Zenawi presented a challenging moment for Ethiopia and its people.
“I ardently hope that the transition period will be smooth and peaceful and that Ethiopia sees leadership that reflects the aspirations of its people and realises the potential of this extraordinary country,” he said.
Annan said Ethiopia, where the headquarters of the African Union (AU) and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa are based, had historically played key roles in the region and on the African continent Ä roles which were bolstered under the stewardship of Zenawi.
“I hope that his successor will continue to be a driving force on a wide range of issues, from brokering peace negotiations to shaping development relationships,” he said.
The African National Congress mourned Zenawi's death.
Spokesman Jackson Mthembu said he had made a “tremendous contribution” in the areas of governance and economic development in Ethiopia and Africa.
“He also emerged as a strong proponent of regional integration in pursuit of the AU objectives. Prime Minister Zenawi was not only a leader but also an intellectual with passion for leadership development,” said Mthembu.
He said Zenawi had made his mark in the AU and had stood out as one of the leaders whose view found resonance with broader thinking of a self-sufficient Africa.
“In him (Zenawi) Ethiopia has lost a leader and a visionary. He has earned his place in the post colonial history of Africa. The people of Ethiopia and Africa will forever be indebted to his family and kin,” said Mthembu.
The Congress of the People described Zenawi as “a humble servant of the people”.
Cope deputy president Zale Madonsela applauded Zenawi for ousting a military junta before he became president in 1991.
“This leader of our people rallied his people during difficult times in the history of Ethiopia, ousting a dictator who had no love for people.
“Upon take over of government, he ensured lasting peace in the country of our great history as Africans,” he said.
Zenawi, 57, led a liberation movement and became president in 1991 after overthrowing a military junta. He served as prime minister of the east African nation from 1995. - Sapa