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 city.
Some protesters denounced the United States government, which is among the foreign powers that have called for a ceasefire, as a year-long war that has killed thousands escalated amid rebel advances last weekend.
The United States, the UN Security Council, the African Union, Kenya and Uganda have called for a ceasefire in recent days.
Abiy’s government has pledged to keep fighting. On Friday, the government said it had the responsibility of securing the country and urged its international partners to stand by the Ethiopian democracy.
Some people gathered in Meskel Square in central Addis Ababa draped themselves with the national flag. Many have criticized the United States.
The administration of US President Joe Biden on Tuesday accused Ethiopia of “gross violations” of human rights and said it plans to withdraw the country from the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) trade deal.
“Shame on you USA” reads one protester’s sign, while another says the United States should stop “sucking the blood of Ethiopia”.
Other protesters expressed their anger at the US call on the government and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Tigray (TPLF) to start talks.
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, but have faced a sharp turnaround since June this year.
“Why doesn’t the US government negotiate with terrorists like al Shabaab? Said Tigist Lemma, 37, referring to a militant group linked to al-Qaeda in Somalia.
“They want to destroy our country like they did in Afghanistan. They will never succeed, we are Ethiopians.
Speaking at the rally, Addis Ababa Mayor Adanech Abiebe cited Ethiopia’s history of resistance to 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.
“No youth” on the front line
During the rally there was a call for restraint by popular musician Tariku Gankisi, whose songs call for the unity of all Ethiopians.
“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. The fresh grass is a symbol of peace in the country.
The state of emergency declared by the government on Tuesday allows it to 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 in a message on Twitter on Saturday evening: “The media propaganda orchestrated against Ethiopia is intensifying… Despite everything, Ethiopia will win!