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Ethiopian Prime Minister Takes Break to Recover From Illness

July 19, 2012

Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi is taking a break to recover from an unspecified 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. Meles is expected to return to work “in the near future,” he said.

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.

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.

To contact the reporter on this story: William Davison in Addis Ababa at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Richardson at

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