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Eritrean Ambassador Dismisses Coup Reports; Soldiers Retreat

Eritrea’s ambassador to the United Nations dismissed speculation of an attempted coup as news agencies including Agence France-Presse reported that government forces have withdrawn from the capital, Asmara.

About 100 soldiers stormed the Information Ministry in Asmara yesterday and took control of the building, according to Awate.com, a California-based opposition website. The mutinying soldiers ended the occupation and tanks that had surrounded the vicinity yesterday left this morning, AFP said, citing an unidentified European diplomat.

Reports that an attempt was made to overthrow President Isaias Afwerki’s government are “nonsensical,” Ambassador Araya Desta said in a phone interview from New York late yesterday. “Everything is fine and under control.”

Eritrea has been ruled by Afwerki, a former rebel leader, since it gained independence from Ethiopia in 1993. The country has no privately owned press and the government has arbitrarily detained thousands of people including opposition supporters and journalists over the past decade, according to Amnesty International, the London-based advocacy group.

The UN has imposed sanctions on Eritrea for supporting al- Qaeda-linked militants fighting to topple the government of Somalia. The Eritrean government denies the allegations.

Demands

The troops who seized control of the Information Ministry building, which is known as Enda Zena, ordered a newsreader to read a statement on state television calling for the release of political prisoners and the implementation of the country’s constitution, according to Awate.com.

The Ministry of Information’s website, which normally provides daily updates of news from Eritrea, hasn’t been updated since Jan. 20.

Nevsun Resources Ltd. (NSU), the operator of a gold mine in Eritrea, fell the most in six months yesterday after the reports about the events in Asmara. The company said its Bisha mine in the Horn of Africa nation was operating normally.

Sunridge Gold Ltd. (SGC) said the military activity in the capital had no impact on its continuing engineering studies in the country. The stock fell as much as 32 percent in Toronto.

To contact the reporter on this story: Bealfan T. Hayle in Khartoum via Nairobi at pmrichardson@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Richardson at pmrichardson@bloomberg.net.

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