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Eritrea: Africa's version of North Korea?

In a rare interview, Eritrea's president Isaias Afwerki denies helping Islamic militants in Somalia, and says his country doesn't need elections.

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In this lonely corner of the world, the first sign of distress is the luggage. When one of the few international flights that are still operating here touched down one recent afternoon, the returning passengers emerged from baggage claim as if from a big shopping trip. Old metal trolleys squealed under the weight of mundane items: tires, a laptop computer, tubs of detergent and duffel bags crammed so tightly with food that tin cans bulged through the fabric.

The needs are acute in Eritrea, a narrow shard of sand and rock along the Red Sea that's presided over by one of Africa's most secretive regimes. As its quixotic experiment in economic self-reliance falters, the Ohio-sized country of 5 million has slipped into its deepest political isolation in its 16 years of independence.

The United States and others accuse President Isaias Afwerki of funneling arms and money to Islamist insurgents in Somalia and have threatened to slap him with sanctions. Analysts say Isaias is bent on wresting influence from Ethiopia — Eritrea's large southern neighbor and adversary in a 30-year liberation struggle — and is backing several rebel groups across the chaotic Horn of Africa.

Who needs allies?

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