Ethiopia declares nationwide state of emergency and urges citizens to defend capital

Ethiopia has declared a six-month state of emergency after forces from the northern region of Tigray said it was gaining territory and was considering marching on the capital Addis Ababa.

The state of emergency was introduced on Tuesday with immediate effect.

The Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) claimed to have captured several cities in recent days, saying it could march on the capital Addis Ababa.

“Our country faces a serious threat to its existence, sovereignty and unity,” Justice Minister Gedion Timothewos told a state media briefing.

“And we cannot eliminate this danger through the usual law enforcement systems and procedures.”

He said anyone who violates the emergency risks three to 10 years in prison for offenses such as providing financial, material or moral support to “terrorist groups”.

State-affiliated media Fana Broadcasting Corporate said lawmakers are expected to approve the state of emergency within 24 hours.

The announcement came shortly after authorities in Addis Ababa asked residents to register their weapons and prepare to defend their neighborhoods against TPLF.

“Residents can gather in their locality and protect their surroundings,” it states.

“Those who have weapons but cannot help protect their surroundings are advised to hand over the weapon to the government or their close relatives or friends.”

Cities conquered

The TPLF has claimed that the cities of Dessie, Kombolcha and Burka, all in the Amhara region, have been conquered in recent days.

A government spokesman disputed the capture of Dessie and and Kombolcha, but later issued a statement saying TPLF “infiltrators” had killed 100 youths in Kombolcha.

Spokesmen for the government, military and the Amhara region did not return calls to seek further comment.

What led to this?

The conflict started on the night of November 3, 2020, when forces loyal to the TPLF – including some soldiers – seized military bases in Tigray, a northern region.

In response, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sent several troops there.

The TPLF had dominated national politics for almost three decades, but lost much of its influence when Mr Abiy took office in 2018 after years of anti-government protests.

Relations with the TPLF became sour after they accused him of centralizing power at the expense of Ethiopia’s regional states – an accusation that Mr Abiy rejects.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed answers questions from MPs
The TPLF accused Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed of centralizing power.(AP: Mulugeta Ayene)

The conflict has thrown about 400,000 people in Tigray into famine, killing thousands of civilians and forcing more than 2.5 million people in the north to flee their homes.

Ethiopia most recently imposed a state of emergency in February 2018 for six months prior to the transfer of power to Mr Abiy.

Curfews were enforced and people’s movements restricted, while thousands of people were detained.

The United States is issuing a threat

US President Joe Biden’s administration on Tuesday accused Ethiopia of “gross violations of internationally recognized human rights”.

The administration said that as a result, it planned to remove the country from the trade agreement for the African Growth and Opportunity Act, which gives it duty-free access to the United States.

Washington had warned Ethiopia for several months that it was risking losing its trade access, said U.S. Horn of America’s envoy Jeffrey Feltman, adding that there was still “some time” for Ethiopia to act to stave off the move.

Ethiopia’s Ministry of Commerce said it was “extremely disappointed” with the US move and called for a turnaround by January.

“The Ethiopian government takes all human rights allegations seriously: we look at them and conduct investigations, and we are committed to ensuring accountability,” it said.

ABC / wires

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