Ethiopian Prime Minister Takes Break to Recover From Illness

Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi is taking a break to recover from an unspecified and recent illness and will return to duty once he is well, Communications Minister Bereket Simon said.

“He is in good health,” Bereket told reporters today in Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital, adding that further details aren’t being announced for privacy reasons. “So he’s in charge and he’ll be back in office.” Meles is expected to return to work in a few days, he said without specifying.

The 57-year-old leader failed to attend the two-day African Union heads-of-state summit that began in Addis Ababa on July 15. Meles had planned to go the meeting, Bereket said. Anti-government groups including the U.S.-based Ethiopian National Transitional Council said on July 15 Meles may have died after receiving treatment in a Belgian hospital, while the Middle East News Agency reported a day later that the prime minister had surgery in Germany, without citing anyone.

Meles is head of the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front and has held power in Ethiopia for more than two decades, after helping lead allied rebel groups to overthrow Mengistu Haile Mariam’s Marxist military junta in 1991.

‘Exhaustion Visible’

“Given his enormous and herculean task he’s been shouldering for many decades, exhaustion is visible,” Bereket said. “That’s why EPRDF has been saying a new breed of leaders shall come so that they should receive the baton.”

The illness is a recent development and doctors recommended an extended rest from official duties to speed recovery, he said.

Meles has said that he will step down at the end of his term in 2015, and Bereket said “that’s what we’re expecting and that’s what we’re going to pursue in terms of the succession.”

Under Meles, Ethiopia’s government has been a U.S. ally in the fight against insurgencies in the Horn of Africa, especially in Somalia, where the military helped remove an Islamist group from power in 2006. The U.S. government provided $6.23 billion in assistance, including food aid and military training funds between 2000 and 2011, according to the State Department.

Ethiopian Deputy Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, who is also the country’s foreign minister, led the Ethiopian delegation at the African Union summit earlier this week.

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