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NYT: Resentment and Rations as Eritrea Nears a Crisis

Author: Jeffrey Gettleman
October 9, 2007

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Summary:

Jeffrey Gettleman examines the divisions among Eritrea's population as their government prepares for war with Ethiopia. He explains the economic crisis that has taken hold there and describes the country's "bunker mentality and underdog complex."

Excerpt:

The first thing you notice about Eritrea is that no one ever locks up a bike.

It is one of the poorest countries on the planet, situated in one of the world’s most reliably violent regions, the Horn of Africa, yet Eritrea is virtually crime-free.

Anytime, day or night, young couples stroll freely down the palm-lined avenues of Asmara, the capital. Old men in tweed jackets and vintage Ray-Bans park themselves at the 1930s chrome-trimmed Art Deco cafes and soak up the scene.

But beneath the peace, harmony and South Beach style that once made Eritrea the little gem of Africa, cracks are beginning to show. There are bread lines, milk lines and lines for rationed cooking gas. At night, dissidents meet on dark streets to chat secretly in parked cars.

Because of the rising prospects of war with Ethiopia, essentially Round 2 of a border conflict that has already killed 100,000 people, tens of thousands of Eritrean students have been conscripted into the army.

Relations with the West, especially the United States, have deteriorated to a historic low point, with the State Department threatening to designate Eritrea, a tiny country on the Red Sea that most Americans have never heard of, as a terrorist state for its support of Islamist rebels in Somalia.

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