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Soldiers Seize Eritrean Information Ministry

Dissident soldiers in Eritrea have ended their day-long siege of the information ministry.

Information ministry sources told VOA that the soldiers got into armored personnel carriers late Monday and drove back to their base south of the capital, Asmara.

The soldiers, reported to number about 100, took over the ministry in Asmara mid-morning Monday - a rare challenge to the government of President Isaias Afewerki.

Reports from the city say the dissidents forced state television announcers to read a statement calling for the release of political prisoners and saying the 1997 constitution would be respected.

State-run radio and TV were then off the air for much of the day, but resumed normal broadcasting late Monday. State-run media did not give any explanation of what had happened and it was not immediately clear how the standoff was resolved.

The government has not commented on the situation.

President Afewerki has ruled Eritrea since 1993. His government has kept tight control on the country, allowing little dissent and no independent media.

The government is believed to hold thousands of political prisoners, including journalists and officials who questioned the president's leadership.

The United Nations human rights office has said the country of about six million people holds between 5,000 and 10,000 political prisoners.

The U.S. embassy in Eritrea issued a message on Monday advising American citizens to limit their movements in the capital. The message says diplomats have been "made aware of increased military presence in some sections of Asmara."