(GIN) – The illiness which plagued Ethiopian leader, Meles Zenawi, took his life during treatment at a Belgian hospital late Monday (Aug. 20).
He was 57 years of age. At an impromptu press conference, government spokesman Simon Bereket said that Zenawi "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."
“The situation is calm and composed,” said the spokesman, adding that the ruling party was in full control. Zenawi’s replacement, Haile Mariam Desalegn, age 47, formerly deputy prime minister and foreign affairs minister, will be sworn in when Parliament, currently on recess, is recalled.
During his 21-year rule, Meles turned Ethiopia into one of Africa's fastest-growing economies and proved to be a key US ally in the war on terror. The U.S. houses a drone base there and has given the country millions of dollars in aid.
But the prime minister was also regarded as an authoritarian strongman whose critics suffered persecution, imprisonment and torture.
A former rebel guerrilla fighter, Meles took power after overthrowing the communist military junta of Mengistu Haile Mariam in 1991.
Home to over 80 million people, Ethiopia receives strong support from its citizens in the Diaspora, estimated to number around one million in the U.S., Europe and the Middle East. Last year a record $1.5 billion was received from its citizens abroad, a record growth of 88% over the previous year.
Meles is survived by his wife, Azeb Mesfin, and three children, Semhal, Senay and Marda. As of press time, no date had been set for the memorial.
Elsewhere in the nation, the powerful Patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, Abune Paulos, died Aug. 16 at an Addis Ababa hospital. Paulos led Ethiopia's 40 million Orthodox Christians - half the population - since 1992. He was 77.