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With death of Ethiopian leader Meles, US loses an anti-terror ally (+video)

Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, who died yesterday, was one of the US's closest allies on the continent, particularly when it came to efforts to combat Somali Islamists.

NAIROBI (AFP) - Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, a regional strongman in the volatile Horn of Africa who ruled with an iron fist for over two decades, has died in hospital in Brussels, officials said.
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One of the West’s most important allies in Africa, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, has died unexpectedly without leaving a clear successor, raising fears of increased instability in a volatile region.

Mr. Meles died late yesterday from a “sudden infection” following treatment in Belgium for an unspecified illness, state television reported. His body was expected to arrive back to Ethiopia tonight.

A period of national mourning was immediately declared and a state funeral would be planned “in due course,” said Bereket Simon, the country’s communications minister and a long-time friend of Meles.

Bereket refused to specify what illness the prime minister was being treated for, telling reporters in Addis Ababa only that he “has been quite ill for some time.”

"He has been struggling to be healthy in the last year,” he said. “One of the best things about him was that he never considered that he was ill and he was up to the job every time, every day, every evening.”

The US counted Meles as one of its closest allies on the continent, and USAID has given an average of $700 million in development support a year to the Ethiopian government for the last four years, most of which was devoted to health and education spending.

He was a leader who managed both to lift millions of his country’s citizens from poverty and to play the role of regional power-broker and anti-terror hawk. He was also a central figure in peace negotiations between Sudan and South Sudan, boosted the presence of the African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa, and was regularly called upon as a “voice of Africa” abroad.

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