News / Africa

Ethiopian PM Meles Dies at 57

Ethiopia's Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, September 17, 2011
Ethiopia's Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, September 17, 2011
VOA News
Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi has died at the age of 57, after months of speculation about his health.

State television announced his death Tuesday, saying he died from a sudden infection late Monday at a hospital abroad.

Speaking with VOA Somali Service, government spokesman Bereket Simon would not say where Meles died, or disclose the illness that led to his hospitalization.

"The prime minister had been sick for quite a while," he said.  "And he was attending medical support in, somewhere in, ah, abroad.  And he had some chance in recuperating.  But ultimately some infection happened to him and doctors couldn't control that infection."

Meles had not been seen in public for nearly two months before his death.

Spokesman Bereket said Deputy Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn will serve as acting prime minister.

He said Meles' body will arrive Tuesday in Ethiopia, and officials are making plans for the funeral.

Meles Zenawi

  • Born May 8, 1955 in Adwa, northern Ethiopia
  • Suspended studies in 1974 to join Tigrai Peoples Liberation Front, TPLF
  • Chairman of TPLF and Ethiopian Peoples Revolutionary Democratic Front since 1989
  • Led EPRDF rebels to seize power in 1991 and became president
  • Prime minister since being elected in 1995
  • Serves as African Union spokesperson on climate change
  • Praised for helping lift Ethiopia out of poverty after civil war
  • Criticized for silencing all forms of dissent
  • Known as ally with U.S. against terrorism
Prime Minister Meles ruled his country for more than 20 years, after the rebel alliance he led, the EPRDF (Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front), seized power in 1991.

Meles earned praise abroad for improvements in the economy, education and health care.  But human rights groups sharply criticized him for various abuses, including restrictions on independent media.

Under Meles, Ethiopia fought a border war with Eritrea and sent troops to Somalia to fight Islamist militants.  

Ethiopia and Eritrea fought from 1998 to 2000 in a conflict that killed more than 70,000 people.  Tension between the two countries remained high.  

Meles was also known as an ally to the United States against terrorism.  

In 2006, Ethiopian troops entered Somalia to fight Islamist militants allegedly armed and trained by the Eritrean government.  Ethiopian forces returned to Somalia last year in a multi-nation offensive against militant group al-Shabab.

Meles' most serious political challenge came in the 2005 elections, when opposition parties said the government rigged to results to cheat them of victory.  Nearly 200 people died in post-election violence and protests.

In the most recent elections in 2010, the EPRDF and its allies took all but one seat in parliament, sparking new accusations of fraud.

The criticism increased in recent years as Ethiopian courts jailed journalists and political activists under an anti-terrorism law that rights groups said was overly vague and broad.

Meles was born in the northern Ethiopian town of Adwa in 1955.  He attended Addis Ababa University for two years before joining the Tigrayan Peoples' Liberation Front, or TPLF, one of several groups that was fighting the government of Mengistu Hailemariam.  The TPLF later became the core group within the EPRDF.

After taking power in 1991, Meles served as president for four years before assuming the prime minister's post in 1995.

Photo Gallery: Meles Zenawi

  • The casket containing the body of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi arrives at the Addis Ababa International Airport, Ethiopia, August 22, 2012.
  • The body of Ethiopia's Prime Minister Meles Zenawi is escorted upon arrival in Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa early August 22, 2012.
  • Ethiopian women in black gather to mourn as the body of the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi arrived in Addis Ababa, August 22, 2012.
  • Ethiopians carry posters in Amharic reading "Meles We Love You" as they gather to mourn as the body of the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi arrived in Addis Ababa, August 22, 2012.
  • Ethiopian national flags fly at half mast in Addis Ababa, August 21, 2012.
  • Officials move a portrait of Meles shortly after the announcement of his death in Addis Ababa, August 21, 2012.
  • Ethiopian government spokesman Bereket Simon (R) makes the official announcement of Meles' death in Addis Ababa, August 21, 2012.
  • U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton meets with Meles at the London Conference on Somalia, February 23, 2012.
  • The late Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi arrives with his wife Azeb Mesfi for the 18th African Union Summit in Addis Ababa, January 29, 2012.
  • Meles speaks to reporters after meeting with Egyptian Prime Minister Essam Sharaf in Cairo, Egypt, September 17, 2011.
  • Meles and other world leaders pose during a group photo at the G20 summit in Toronto, Canada, June 27, 2010.
  • Meles lifts his cap to salute supporters of the EPRDF party at the Meskel Square in Addis Ababa, May 25, 2010.
  • A poster featuring the prime minister displayed in downtown Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, May 2010.
  • U.S. President George W. Bush chats with Meles during a meeting with Kenyan President Daniel Arap Moi for talks on combatting international terrorism, the White House, Washington, December 5, 2002.
  • German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder welcomes Meles to Berlin, Germany, February 5, 2002.
  • Meles and Russian President Vladimir Putin meet in Moscow, Russia, December 3, 2001.
  • UN Secretary General Kofi Annan with Meles before their meeting in the office of the prime minister in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, April 30, 1998.
  • Salim Ahmed Salim, Secretary General of the Organization of African Unity, meets with Meles in Addis Ababa, June 28, 1995.
  • Meles accompanies Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat as he arrives at Addis Ababa's African Hall to attend a meeting, June 26, 1995.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and Reuters.

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Comment Sorting
by: Osman D. from: Debrezeit, Ethiopia
August 23, 2012 4:43 AM
All Ethiopians miss a great leader. I appreciate him that he did'nt take any action on the Derge regime top officials they did in the past. He never know the word "revenge He was realy a mankind.
In Response

by: Arada from: USA
August 23, 2012 12:06 PM
Hitler was a great leader too...For his circle as Meles.

A good leader would have sentenced prisoners and made a stop to genocide, ethnic discrimination & corruption. There is no law in Woyane’s regime but Meles's NAZI rule.

by: Tizazu from: Bisheftu
August 22, 2012 12:09 PM
"what ever the phase of an individual's life is, Ethiopia is here, and protestors are there in America; it continuous like this forever!"
-----------------NO one can be like PM Meles Z----------------------

by: Peter K.Gony from: USA
August 22, 2012 11:28 AM
It is indeed a profound great loss for all African peace and stability. moreover, his policies for his Govt that he worked for Tirelessly for 20 years will live on forever and make Ethiopia a better place and to live. His Soul is now Dancing in Heaven with all our Great African Freedom Fighters who gave thier lives for many so that we may live in peace. May God rest your Soul in Peace and peace to his Widow and children. For those critics there is no perfect Leader in the World!!!
I am SFC Peter Gony, United States Army.

by: Behailu Tekleab from: USA
August 21, 2012 6:28 PM
I am really sad to hear the death of our great leader PM Meles Zenawi suddenly & quickly at the age of 57. Its painful & hard to accept ! I am in deep sorrow to lose the strong man of Africa. I wish this is a dream ! Omg, rest in peace our hero, we love you & remember you forever !

by: Omar from: United States
August 21, 2012 6:17 PM
He was a real tyrant who is praised because of his obedience to his masters in the west. Tens of Thousands of Ethiopians are in prison today without charge and are being tortured on a daily basis. Burma treats its citizens better. Much of the country's resources are concentrated in the hands of his small tribe. Never mind the fact that he also armed criminal entities in Somalia that continue to deny any stability to that country as well.
In Response

by: alemybrah legesse from: china
August 24, 2012 1:52 AM
oppossers are opposition they are always looking for power whatever comes and whatever happen our pm are model to all africa leaders no war each other ,peace and stablity ,all ethiopians are enjio on this
In Response

by: Anonymous
August 23, 2012 12:41 AM
this is very true. for those of you that do not know the country and history of the government, this man is the worst thing that happened to Ethiopia. He was what you would call a true Dictator.

by: Tsige from: Ethiopia
August 21, 2012 11:44 AM
Our PM Meles Zenawi was not only the hero of Ethiopia but he was the hero the world.

by: Kefena from: Ethiopia
August 21, 2012 9:23 AM
Leader of our historic times who tried to pull this country out of deep poverty. He led Ethiopia move forward in development. He left back mixed legacy but memorable!

by: dad from: bahirdar
August 21, 2012 7:34 AM
rest in peace our visionary prime minestre Melese zenawi
In Response

by: genet from: uk
September 16, 2012 7:09 PM
meles zenawi== Hitler
In Response

by: genet from: uk
September 16, 2012 7:04 PM
meles is the reason for the killing of thousands of eritrean youngesters and many more others, he did this to please western countries. he never rule of his head but by the head of america. the blood of all these youngesters wil face him in the sky in front of the heavenly father.
In Response

by: lib from: Addis Abeba
August 21, 2012 10:16 AM
I proud of a very brlianet pm

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