UPDATE 5-Dissident Eritrean troops seize ministry

Mon Jan 21, 2013 5:34pm EST
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* Soldiers demand release of political prisoners

* State TV and radio go off air for hours after siege

* Exiled opposition activists say dissent rising

By Aaron Maasho

ADDIS ABABA, Jan 21 (Reuters) - Dissident Eritrean soldiers with tanks took over the information ministry on Monday and forced state media to call for political prisoners to be freed, a senior intelligence official said.

The renegade soldiers have not gone as far as to demand the overthrow of the government of one of Africa's most secretive states, long at odds with the United States and accused of human rights abuses.

Eritrea has been led by Isaias Afewerki, 66, for some two decades since it broke from bigger neighbour Ethiopia. The fledging gold producer on the Red Sea coast has become increasingly isolated, resisting foreign pressure to open up.

Soldiers forced the director general of state television "to say the Eritrean government should release all political prisoners," the Eritrean intelligence source told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

There was no immediate statement from the Asmara government.   Continued...