Ethiopian leader Meles dies at 57

Meles Zenawi, Ethiopia's long-time ruler who held tight control over the East African country but was a major US counter-terrorism ally, has died of an undisclosed illness after not being seen in public for weeks, Ethiopian state television said. He was 57.

Meles died just before midnight on Monday after contracting an infection, state TV announced. Hailemariam Desalegn, who was appointed deputy prime minister and minister of foreign affairs in 2010, is reportedly in charge of the Cabinet.

Meles had not been seen in public for about two months. In mid-July, after he did not attend a meeting of heads of state of the African Union in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia's capital, speculation increased that his health problems were serious.

Ethiopian officials gave no details and said the prime minister was in "very good" health and would return to office soon, but international officials said quietly it was unlikely he would recover.

Born on May 8, 1955, Meles became president in 1991 and prime minister in 1995, a position that is both the head of the federal government and armed forces.

The US has long viewed Meles as a strong security partner and has given hundreds of millions of dollars in aid over the years. US military drones that patrol East Africa - especially over Somalia - are stationed in Ethiopia. But Ethiopia has long been criticised by human rights groups over the government's strict control.

During Meles' election win in 2005, when it appeared the opposition was likely to make gains, he tightened security across the country, and on the night of the election declared a state of emergency, outlawing any public gathering as his ruling party claimed a majority win.

Opposition members accused Meles of rigging the election, and demonstrations broke out. Security forces moved in, killing hundreds of people and jailing thousands.

In 2010 Meles won another five years in office while receiving a reported 99% of the vote. He is the long-time chairman of the Tigray People's Liberation Front and has always identified strongly with his party.

"I cannot separate my achievements from what can be considered as the achievements of the ruling party. Whatever achievement there might have been, it does not exist independent of that party," he once said when asked what he thought would be his legacy.