Isaias Afewerki was elected president of independent Eritrea by the national assembly in 1993. He had been the de facto leader before independence.
Presidential elections, planned for 1997, never materialised. Eritrea is a one-party state, with the ruling People's Front for Democracy and Justice the only party allowed to operate.
Mr Afewerki has been criticised for failing to implement democratic reforms. His government has clamped down on its critics and has closed the private press.
US diplomatic cables revealed by WikiLeaks in December 2010 offer an unflattering view of Mr Afewerki's rule: ''Young Eritreans are fleeing their country in droves, the economy appears to be in a death spiral, Eritrea's prisons are overflowing, and the country's unhinged dictator remains cruel and defiant." Is the country "on the brink of disaster?" asked the American ambassador Ronald McMullen.
Born in 1946 in Asmara, Isaias Afewerki joined the Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF) in 1966. He received military training in China the same year, then went on to be deputy divisional commander.
In 1970 he co-founded the Eritrean People's Liberation Front (EPLF) and in 1987 he was elected secretary-general of the organisation.