Eritrea: Historical Outline
Like all African states. Eritrea came into being during the European colonial period. Prior to this time, a number of different peoples occupied present-day Eritrea though none controlled the entire area.
Some of these peoples established powerful kingdoms. Among them were the Axumite kingdom (1st-9th C.), the seven Beja kingdoms (8th-13th C.), and the Bellou kingdom (13th-16th C.).
Over the centuries, other kingdoms and empires also established outposts or exercised control over various parts of present-day Eritrea. These include the Ptolemic Egyptians (3rd C. BC), the Sennar kingdom (16th-19th C.), the Abyssinian kingdom (14th-18th C., 19th C.), the Adal sultanate (15th-16th C.), the Aussa sultanate (16th-19th C.), Egypt under Muhammad 'Ali (18th C.), and the Ottoman Turks (16th-19th C.).
All of the area now known as Eritrea was gradually united under Italian rule. The king of Italy issued a decree creating Eritrea on January 1, 1890.
Italy established an administrative structure and a transport and communications network in Eritrea. Italian settlers set up plantations and industries.
During World War ll, the British defeated the Italians and established a protectorate over Eritrea. Eritrea became an important center for British and American operations in the region during the war.
The 1950 United Nations resolution federating Eritrea with Ethiopia went into effect. The resolution ignored Eritreans' desire for independence but guaranteed them some democratic rights and autonomy.
The armed struggle for independence began after years of peaceful protest against Ethiopian violations of Eritrean democratic rights and autonomy produced no improvement in a deteriorating situation.
Using armed force, Ethiopia's emperor, Haile Sellassie, unilaterally dissolved the Eritrean parliament and annexed the country.
A coup in Ethiopia ended the rule of Emperor Haile Sellassie. The new military junta was called the "Derg."
The Soviet Union began supplying huge amounts of military aid to the Derg.
Faced with the new scale of warfare, the Eritrean People's Liberation Front (EPLF) made a strategic withdrawal from the cities which it had controlled.
With Soviet help, the Derg launched eight major offensives against the independence movement. All failed.
The EPLF captured Afabet, headquarters of the Ethiopian army on the north- eastern front in Eritrea. EPLF fighters moved into the area around Keren, Eritrea's second largest city. In the face of these losses, the Ethiopian army withdrew from several cities and towns in the western lowlands.
In February, the EPLF captured the port of Massawa. The Derg immediately began bombing and shelling the city. The EPLF offered to open the port for relief aid shipments but, because of Derg objections and the continued bombing, shipments did not start until January 1991.
The EPLF liberated the entire country in May and established the Provisional Government of Eritrea (PGE). At the same time, the EPRDF overthrew the Derg a Transitional Government was established in Ethiopia.
In April. 98.5% of registered voters turned out for the internationally monitored referendum. The result was a resounding vote for independence: 99.8% said 'yes" for independence. The head of the United Nations observer mission said the referendum was "free and fair at every stage." Other observer groups also confirmed this.
As Eritreans celebrated their official independence day on 24 May, the government was enlarged and reorganized. The National Assembly, the highest legal body, set the goals to be accomplished within a four year period: the drafting of a democratic constitution which guarantees the basic rights of all citizens and political pluralism. and the establishment of an elected government.
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