Addis Ababa: Meles Zenawi, Ethiopia`s long-time ruler who held tight control over this East African country but was a major US counter-terrorism ally, died of an undisclosed illness after not being seen in public for weeks, Ethiopian state television said on Tuesday.
He was 57.
Meles died yesterday just before midnight after contracting an infection, state TV announced today.
Hailemariam Desalegn, who was appointed Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs in 2010, is now in charge of the Cabinet, state TV said.
Meles hadn`t been seen in public for about two months. In mid-July, after Meles 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.
State TV today showed pictures of Meles as classical music played in the background.
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.
Though a US ally, Ethiopia has long been criticised by human rights groups for the government`s strict control.