ADDIS ABABA, Nov. 7 (Reuters) – Tens of thousands of Ethiopians gathered in Addis Ababa on Sunday to support Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government as federal troops fight rebel forces threatening to march on the capital.
Some protesters spoke out against the United States, one of the foreign powers that called for a yearlong war ceasefire, which escalated amid advances by rebel forces last week.
The UN Security Council, the African Union, Kenya and Uganda have also called for a ceasefire in the conflict that has claimed thousands of lives.
Canada, calling the situation in Ethiopia “to evolve and deteriorate rapidly,” has withdrawn the families of its embassy staff and non-essential Canadian employees, the foreign ministry said on Sunday.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.
Abiy’s government, which has pledged to continue the fighting, said on Friday it had a responsibility to secure the country and urged foreign powers to support Ethiopia’s democracy. Read more
Ethiopia’s state-appointed Human Rights Commission said on Sunday authorities appeared to use the state of emergency declared on Tuesday to arrest people because of their ethnic identity.
“In some police stations, families are denied access to detainees, and they cannot deliver food and clothing. In addition to this, elderly people and mothers with children are among the detainees, ”the commission said in a statement.
Government spokesman Legesse Tulu and federal police spokesman Jeylan Abdi did not immediately respond to Reuters requests for comment.
Police spokeswoman Fasika Fante on Thursday denied the arrests were ethnically motivated, saying those detained “directly or indirectly” support the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), a banned party formerly part of the Ethiopian government and now fighting federal forces.
Some of those gathered for the rally in Meskel Square in Addis Ababa draped themselves with the national flag.
“Shame on you, USA” read one sign, while another said the United States should stop “sucking the blood of Ethiopia”.
“THEY WILL NEVER SUCCEED”
The administration of US President Joe Biden on Tuesday accused Ethiopia of “gross violations” of human rights and said it planned to withdraw the country from a US trade pact.
The conflict in the north of the country began a year ago when forces loyal to the TPLF seized military bases in the Tigray region. In response, Abiy sent troops, who initially drove the TPLF out of the regional capital, Mekelle, but have faced a sharp turnaround since June this year.
Some protesters expressed their anger at a US call on the government and the TPLF to negotiate.
“They want to destroy our country like they did in Afghanistan. They will never succeed, we are Ethiopians,” said Tigist Lemma, 37.
The mayor of Addis Ababa, Adanech Abiebe, addressed the protesters and cited Ethiopia’s history of resisting colonial rule to justify the war.
The conflict has killed thousands of people, forced more than 2 million people from their homes and left 400,000 people in Tigray facing famine.
UN aid chief Martin Griffiths visited Mekelle on Sunday and met with women affected by the fighting and humanitarian partners, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said. ‘UN.
OCHA said it “has engaged with the de facto authorities on the need for humanitarian access and protection of civilians in all areas under their control, and on respect for humanitarian principles.”
A humanitarian source in Ethiopia and a person familiar with the matter told Reuters that AU special envoy to the Horn of Africa, Olusegun Obasanjo, was also on hand.
The AU and government spokesman Legesse did not respond to a request for comment. TPLF spokesman Getachew Reda told Reuters that Griffiths and Obasanjo visited Mekelle.
At the Addis Ababa rally, popular musician Tariku Gankisi, whose songs call for Ethiopian unity, called for restraint.
“Don’t let any young people go to the front to fight, let the old ones hold the grass fresh and ask for reconciliation,” Tariku told the crowd, before his microphone was turned off, it was not clear by whom. Fresh grass is a symbol of peace in Ethiopia.
Under the state of emergency declared on Tuesday, the government can order citizens of fighting age to undergo training and accept military duties.
Reuters was unable to independently confirm the extent of the TPLF’s advance. The TPLF and their allies told Reuters last week they were 325 km (200 miles) from the capital. The government accuses the group of exaggerating its earnings.
The government also complained about foreign media coverage of the conflict, and some people at the rally held up signs denouncing “fake news” in Ethiopia.
Billene Seyoum, spokesperson for Abiy, said on Twitter on Saturday: “The media propaganda orchestrated against Ethiopia is intensifying… Despite everything, Ethiopia will win!
Report from Addis Ababa Newsroom and Nairobi Newsroom; Writing by Duncan Miriri; Editing by Maggie Fick, Frances Kerry and Edmund Blair
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.