Ethiopia: Tens of thousands march for military campaign against rebel forces

War has killed thousands and left two million homeless and 400,000 people in Tigray facing famine

People gather behind a placard showing Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed at a rally at Meskel square in downtown Addis Ababa. AP
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Tens of thousands of Ethiopians rallied in Addis Ababa on Sunday to support Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed's government, as federal troops fought rebellious forces threatening to march on the capital.

Some demonstrators denounced the US, one of the foreign powers that has called for a ceasefire, reports said. The UN Security Council, the African Union, and Kenya and Uganda have also called for a ceasefire.

The year-long war has killed thousands of people, forced more than two million from their homes and left 400,000 people in Tigray facing famine.

The conflict in the north started a year ago when forces loyal to the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) seized military bases in the Tigray region. In response, Mr Abiy sent troops, who initially drove the TPLF out of the regional capital, Mekelle, but have faced a sharp reversal since June this year.

The extent of TPLF's advance could not be ascertained. The TPLF and their allies said last week they were 325 kilometres from the capital. The government accuses the group of exaggerating its gains.

Under a state of emergency declared on Tuesday, the government can order citizens of military age to undergo training and accept military duties.

Some demonstrators at the rally voiced anger over a US call for the government and TPLF to negotiate.

“They want to destroy our country like they did to Afghanistan. They will never succeed, we are Ethiopians,” said 37-year-old Tigist Lemma.

Addis Ababa Mayor Adanech Abiebe addressed protesters and cited Ethiopia's history of resisting colonial power to justify the war.

Canada, calling the situation in Ethiopia “rapidly evolving and deteriorating”, has withdrawn the families of its embassy staff and non-essential Canadian employees, the foreign ministry said on Sunday. Its embassy remains open in the capital.

Mr Abiy's government, which has pledged to keep fighting, said on Friday it had a responsibility to secure the country and urged foreign powers to stand with Ethiopia's democracy.

The state-appointed Ethiopian Human Rights Commission said on Sunday the authorities appeared to be using a state of emergency declared on Tuesday to arrest people based on ethnic identity.

Police spokesperson Fasika Fante has denied that arrests were ethnically motivated, saying those detained “directly or indirectly” backed the Tigray People's Liberation Front, an outlawed party that was once part of Ethiopia's government and is now battling federal forces.

Draped in flag

Some of those gathered for the rally in Meskel Square in Addis Ababa draped themselves in the national flag.

US President Joe Biden's administration on Tuesday accused Ethiopia of gross human rights breaches and said it planned to remove the country from an important trade pact.

UN undersecretary for humanitarian affairs Martin Griffiths travelled to Mekelle on Sunday and met humanitarian partners and women affected by the fighting.

He “engaged with de facto authorities on the need for humanitarian access and protection of civilians through all areas under their control, and respect for humanitarian principles”, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said.

During the visit to Mekelle, Mr Griffiths also met the region's “de facto authorities” and insisted on “the need for humanitarian access and protection of civilians through all areas under their control,” a UN spokesperson said.

Sources said Mr Griffiths was in Mekelle at the same time as Olusegun Obasanjo, the African Union's high representative for the Horn of Africa, who was there to meet Debretsion Gebremichael, head of the TPLF.

Updated: November 08, 2021, 5:27 AM