Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi has died in a Brussels hospital after weeks of illness, according to reports.
Meles, who was 57, had not been seen in public for about two months, the Associated Press reported. He was reported to have been sick in a hospital in Belgium.
An EU spokesman told journalists that Meles died in Brussels.
In July, the long-time ruler failed to attend an African Union summit held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital, fueling speculation about his health.
According to the AP, state TV said Meles died Monday just before midnight. He had contracted an infection, the report said.
“Prime Minister Meles Zenawi passed away yesterday evening at around midnight,” government spokesman Bereket Simon said, adding that he was “abroad” when he died,according to Agence France-Presse.
“He had been recuperating well, but suddenly something happened and he had to be rushed to the ICU [intensive care unit] and they couldn’t keep him alive,” Bereket told AFP.
Deputy Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn will now take charge of the East African country.
Meles, a former rebel leader, took power in 1991 after ousting dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam, who was granted asylum by Zimbabwe, where he still resides today.
Under Meles, Ethiopia had become a key ally of the United States in the Horn of Africa region.
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Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf called Meles “an economic transformer” and “a strong intellectual leader for the continent.”
“I don’t have fears [over the transition] because I believe there are many other leaders in Ethiopia who will get the support of regional leaders to make the transformation that is necessary, moving towards an open society,” she said, according to the BBC.
However, Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga said he was worried about the post-Meles era in Ethiopia.
“One fears for the stability of Ethiopia upon his death because you know that the Ethiopian state is fairly fragile and there is a lot of ethnic violence,” Odinga told the BBC. “I don’t know that [Ethiopian politicians] are sufficiently prepared for a succession: this is my fear, that there may be a falling out within the ruling movement.”
South Africa’s ruling party, the African National Congress said Meles “has earned his place in the post colonial history of Africa.”
Meles “made a tremendous contribution in the arena of governance and economic development” in Ethiopia and more broadly in Africa, an ANC statement said.