A founding member of Ethiopia’s ruling Tigrai People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) party said ailing Prime Minister Meles Zenawi is receiving medical treatment in an unnamed European country and that he’ll return to his official duties in a few days.
Sebhat Negga said the prime minister’s health is not a major issue among the public.
Meles has not been seen in public for at least two weeks.
Ethiopian dissident websites have published unconfirmed reports that the prime minister suffers from brain cancer.
But, Negga said the Ethiopian opposition is trying to exploit the situation.
“I can tell you for sure that there is no undesirable eventuality regarding his health. I am 100 percent sure that he’s recovering health wise and he will be back to his official duty in a number of days,” he said.
Negga described as “completely untrue” European media reports that Meles is hospitalized in critical condition at Saint Luc Hospital in Brussels.
The hospital Wednesday declined to say if the Ethiopian leader is there.
Negga said the prime minister’s health is not a major issue for majority of Ethiopians. He accused the opposition of trying to exploit the issue.
“It’s not a very important issue [among] the people. It is the opposition parties that are trying to exploit this because they are wishful thinkers. Otherwise, in the normal situation, it’s not a major issue,” Negga said.
He accused the opposition of wishing that Meles were dead.
“They want Ethiopia to go back to the situation whereby there is no direction and there is no system,” Negga said.
He said there is no vacuum in leadership even in Mr. Meles’ absence because, he said, Ethiopia has in place a good system of governing.
“There is no concern. The system is there. The system does not depend on one person. People are curious about his health, but it should not be about the issue of governance,” Negga said.
He said Ethiopia is being run in the prime minister’s absence by the parliament and the deputy prime minister.
The group Human Rights Watch has accused Ethiopia of severely restricting basic rights of freedom of expression, association, and assembly. It said hundreds of Ethiopians were arbitrarily arrested and detained in 2011.
Last week, 20 Ethiopians, including a prominent blogger and opposition figures, were jailed for between eight years to life on charges of conspiring with rebels to topple the government.
Human Rights Watch said Ethiopia is using broad anti-terrorism legislation to crack down on dissent and media freedoms.
But, Negga said Meles is not a dictator and can never be one because the powers of the federal government are limited.
“The power of the center is given by the nations and nationalists and people in the original states. Therefore, he [the prime minister] doesn’t have any hand in the affairs of Oromo, Amhara, Tigrai, Afa, etc. They are not within his reach. They have their own structures, their own constitutions, their own president, and their own legislature,” Negga said.