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Military coup may have been attempted in Eritrea (AUDIO)

State TV station in Eritrea appeared to have been forced off the air as rumors swirled around military coup.

Isaias afewerkiEnlarge
President of Eritrea Isaias Afewerki (L) chats with Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo (C) and Ghanaian President John Agyekum Kufuor (R) following a two-day China-Africa summit in Beijing in November 2006. (GOH CHAI HIN/AFP/Getty Images)

A military coup may have been attempted in tiny Eritrea, according to varying reports from inside the heavily-censored country. State television also appeared to have been shut down.

The Associated Press said around 100 dissident soldiers stormed the Ministry of Information and said the country would return to its 1997 constitution in a statement on state TV before the signal was taken off the air, according to Leonard Vincent, an Eritrea expert.

"By late afternoon there were indications the soldiers' attempt would fail," said the AP, citing a Western diplomat's report that the streets of Asmara were quiet, and no shots had been fired.

Martin Plaut, a fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies in Britain, said that government soldiers had surrounded the ministry, an indication that the attempted coup had failed.

"It looks like it's an isolated attempt by some soldiers who are completely frustrated by what is going on. But it wasn't done in a coordinated manner," Plaut said, comparing the repressive regime to North Korea.

Reuters reported earlier that about "200 Eritrean soldiers with two tanks have surrounded the Ministry of Information" in the national capital of Asmara, although little more information was available at the time.

According to a video posted on Asmarino.com, a group of soldiers had taken down the state TV station and were planning to release political prisoners, said Albawaba News.

Read more from GlobalPost: World's most censored country

Rumors have swirled over the possible death of Eritrean President Isaias Afewerk, and in December, an Eritrean presidential spokesperson told reporters that rumors of Afewerk stepping down were baseless. 

Afewerk has ruled Eritrea since 1993.

Eritrea has gained unwanted attention in recent years as one of the most heavily censored nations on the planet, ranked as "one of the world's worst human rights abusers," according to Freedom House.

Last week, Human Rights Watch censured Canadian mining firm Nevsun for failing to prevent forced labors at its Eritrean gold and copper operations.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/africa/130121/military-coup-may-be-underway-eritrea