Mengistu Haile Mariam (mĕnggĪsˈtō hĪˈlē märˈēəm) [key], 1937–, military ruler of Ethiopia (1974–91). Mengistu, an army officer, participated prominently in Emperor Haile Selassie's overthrow (1974). Emerging through violence as preeminent military ruler by 1977, he sought Soviet aid, established a socialist People's Republic and fought off Somali incursions and Eritrean rebels. He was elected president in 1987. Regional rebellions increased while Soviet aid receded amid economic deterioration. Mengistu abandoned socialism, but unable to mobilize military resistance, he was forced to flee to Zimbabwe in 1991. He was tried (1994–2006) in absentia for genocide by an Ethiopian court, convicted, and sentenced (2007) to life in prison, but in 2008 Ethiopia's supreme court overruled the lower court and imposed the death sentence.
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