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Ethiopia declares a state of emergency as Tigrayan troops gain ground

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  • Emergency should remain in force for six months
  • Declaration follows territorial gains by Tigray rebels
  • Rebels are considering marching on Addis Ababa
  • Ethiopia’s existence in grave danger – Minister of Justice
  • US stops Ethiopian duty-free access on legal issues

ADDIS ABABA, Nov. 2 (Reuters) – Ethiopia declared a six-month state of emergency on Tuesday after troops from the northern Tigray region declared they were gaining territory and were considering marching on the capital, Addis Ababa.

The announcement came two days after Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed urged citizens to take up arms to defend themselves against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).

The previous Tuesday, authorities in Addis Ababa urged residents to register their weapons and prepare to defend their neighborhoods. Continue reading

The state of emergency was declared effective immediately after the TPLF claimed to have captured several cities in the past few days and said it could march on Addis Ababa, about 380 km (235 miles) south of their front positions.

“Our country faces a serious threat to its existence, sovereignty and unity. And we cannot eliminate this threat through the usual law enforcement systems and procedures,” Justice Minister Gedion Timothewos said at a state press conference.

He said anyone who violates the state of emergency faces three to ten years in prison for crimes such as providing financial, material or moral support to “terrorist groups”.

Ethiopia last imposed such a measure in February 2018 for six months before the transfer of power to Abiy. Curfews have been imposed and people’s freedom of movement restricted while thousands of people have been arrested.

Addis Ababa City Council said people should register their guns and gather in their neighborhood. House-to-house searches were carried out and troublemakers were arrested, a statement said.

“Residents can gather in their place and protect their surroundings. Those who own weapons but cannot participate in the security of their surroundings are advised to hand the weapon over to the government or their close relatives or friends.”

Before the announcement, people moved around the capital as usual.

“I’ll try to buy groceries in advance. But I haven’t bought anything yet,” said a woman who did not want to be named.

The governments of four of the ten regions of Ethiopia also called on the Ethiopians to mobilize to fight the Tigrayan troops, the state-run Fana television announced.

The conflict in what was once a stable Western ally in an unstable region has plunged around 400,000 people into famine in Tigray, killing thousands of civilians and forcing more than 2.5 million people in the north to flee.

It broke out on the night of November 3, 2020, when forces loyal to the TPLF – including some soldiers – occupied military bases in Tigray, a northern region. In response, Abiy sent more troops there.

The TPLF had dominated Ethiopian politics for nearly three decades, but lost a lot of influence when Abiy took office in 2018 after years of protests against the government.

Relations with the TPLF deteriorated after it was accused of centralizing power at the expense of Ethiopia’s regional states – an accusation Abiy denies.

CITIES CAPTURED

TPLF spokesman Getachew Reda said if the Tigrayan forces and their allies were able to overthrow the government, they would form an interim government. “If the government falls, we will definitely have a transitional arrangement.”

There needs to be a national dialogue too, he said, but Abiy and his ministers were not asked to participate.

“They will have their day in court,” he said.

The TPLF has recently called for the arrest of Dessie, Kombolcha and Burqa, all in the Amhara region.

A government spokesman denied the capture of Dessie and Kombolcha, but later released a statement saying that TPLF “intruders” had killed 100 youths in Kombolcha.

Government, military and Amhara region spokesmen did not respond to calls on Tuesday asking for further comments.

On Monday evening, the Tigrayan troops said they had teamed up with fighters from an Oromo force that is also fighting against the central government. The Oromo are the largest ethnic group in Ethiopia. Many of their political leaders are currently in jail.

US ALARM

The U.S. special envoy to the Horn of Africa said Tuesday that Washington was alarmed by the deteriorating humanitarian situation in the north, including signs of famine, and urged all sides to find ways to de-escalate and seek assistance.

Jeffrey Feltman said it was mainly government restrictions preventing humanitarian aid from reaching people.

Abiy’s government had denied blocking food aid.

Also on Tuesday, the government of US President Joe Biden accused Ethiopia of “serious violations of internationally recognized human rights” and said it plans to remove the country from the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), which gives it duty-free access to the United States States.

Ethiopia’s Department 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 into them and investigate and we are committed to ensuring accountability,” it said.

Reporting by Addis Ababa Newsroom, Maggie Fick and Katharine Houreld in Nairobi, Humeyra Pamuk and Simon Lewis in Washington; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Mark Heinrich

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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