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In Eritrea, a group of soldiers surrounded the ministry of information building in the capital, Asmara, on Monday calling for the release of political prisoners.

The dissident soldiers were gone on Tuesday and calm returned to the capital according to an Eritrean envoy and a
Western diplomat.

The demand for the release of thousands of political prisoners, a sign of a deepening rift between some factions of the military and the secretive country’s president, Isaias Afewerki.

Eritrea’s envoy to South Africa said there had been a “small incident” at the ministry but that order had been restored.

“The situation in Asmara and elsewhere is no different from any other day,” Salih Omar Abdu said.

It was unclear how order had been restored in the one-party state, where dissent is typically dealt with harshly.

The mutineers this week, about 200 soldiers backed by tanks, had not made public demands beyond the release of political prisoners – estimated by the United Nations to number between 5,000 and 10,000 in the country of about six million people.

One US-based Eritrean opposition website said the mutiny leader was Saleh Osman, a prominent military figure in the 1998-2000 border war with Ethiopia. Awate.com said he appeared to be “trying to jolt back negotiations for democratisation”.

He was not contactable and it was not possible to verify independently. Eritrea restricts the access of foreign journalists and has one of the world’s worst press-freedom records.

Isolated

The Red Sea country has become increasingly isolated under the two-decade rule of 66-year-old former guerrilla Isaias, who led Eritrea to independence in 1993 after a 30-year war with the government in Ethiopia.

Eritrea has long been at odds with the West. The United Nations accused it last year of torture and summary executions.

Growing economic hardship for many Eritreans – despite an influx of investment from gold miners – is eating away at Isaias’ support base, regional diplomats and academics say.

They said that includes within the army, which has more soldiers per person than any country except North Korea.

Copyright © 2014 euronews

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