Eritrea

Eritrea is in East Africa, bordering the Red Sea, between Djibouti and Sudan, with a long disputed border with Ethiopia.

Eritrea was conquered in 1890 by Italy, who hung onto it until World War II, when they were expelled by the British. Eritrea was awarded to Ethiopia in 1952 as part of a federation. Ethiopia's annexation of Eritrea as a province ten years later sparked a 30-year struggle for independence, which ended in 1991 with Eritrean rebels defeating Ethiopian and Ethiopian-backed forces. Independence was overwhelmingly approved in a 1993 referendum, administered by the UN.

Hopes were high when the new state was born but a new border war with Ethiopia erupted again in 1998 and ended only under UN auspices in December 2000. Eritrea briefly hosted a UN peacekeeping operation that monitored a 25 km-wide Temporary Security Zone on the border with Ethiopia. An international commission, organized to resolve the border dispute, posted its findings in 2002. However, final demarcation is on hold due to Ethiopian objections, and the border remains very tense to this day. Eritrea has since expelled the peacekeepers due to lack of support from the UN in having the border ruling enforced.

Using the war as an excuse, Eritrea's government has devolved into one of the worst police states in the world. No national elections have ever been held, the misleadingly named People's Front for Democracy and Justice is the only allowed party, dissidents disappear into jails, while border guards have been ordered to shoot on sight at people trying to escape (the lucky few Eritreans allowed outside the country have to pay taxes to keep their passports), and the country comes in dead last in the Press Freedom Index.

Obligatory military service has been extended to eight years for men and women. The country is desperately poor, with half the population subsisting on under a dollar a day. Growth has been crippled by the war and the termination of trade with Ethiopia.

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