Ethiopia announces emergency as rivals head to the capital

The United States has described security as “deteriorating,” and has strongly warned its citizens to consider leaving.


The Ethiopian government declared a national emergency on Tuesday as rival Tigray militias threatened to advance to the capital and the country's war was escalating rapidly. The United States has described security as “deteriorating,” and has strongly warned its citizens to consider leaving.

An urgent announcement by the Ethiopian Council of Ministers was a clear signal of the current threat from Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed's government, which for a year now allowed troops from neighboring countries to invade the Tigray region to pursue Tigray troops along with Ethiopian troops. Thousands of people have been killed since then.

The Tigray forces and their allies placed "great and imminent danger" on the country's presence, the council announced. "Everyone will be tested," the prime minister said on Twitter, adding that the announcement was made "to shorten the time of grief and provide time for a solution."

The United States has warned Tigray militias, which ruled for a long time before the national government, before Abiy took power, in any attempt to "besiege" the capital, Addis Ababa, after taking control of recent days in the important cities of Dessie and Kombolcha. That enabled them to descend on the main road leading to the capital.

The emergency is starting immediately and will last for six months. The government may impose a curfew, order civilians to be trained in warfare, disrupt transport and tourism facilities, suspend media licenses, and permanently detain anyone suspected of colluding with a terrorist group.

Local government in some areas may be disbanded and replaced by military leadership. Unauthorized public gatherings and any anti-emergency demonstrations are prohibited.

Such actions will be lawful. Ethiopian lawmakers are expected to meet within 48 hours.

Meanwhile, Addis Ababa security forces told residents that anyone with a gun should register it now, and warned that homes and businesses would be searched to ensure peace in the city.

The United Nations has expressed deep concern over recent events, warned that "Ethiopia's stability and regionalism are at stake" and called for an immediate end to the shootings.

The Ethiopian prime minister this week urged all citizens to fight the approaching Tigray forces, adding that "we must closely follow those who serve the enemy and stay among us." A new group of Tigrayan people appeared in the capital on Monday.

Tigray militants say they are pressuring the Ethiopian government to lift a six-month ban on their region of about 6 million people, where basic supplies are cut off and food aid and medical aid are denied.

This is "perhaps the worst obstacle to helping people in the world," a senior US Agency for International Development official told the Associated Press on Tuesday. "We are seeing a crackdown on aid in the affected areas (Tigray forces)" not only in Tigray but also in the neighboring Amhara and Afar regions now ruled by Tigray forces, the official said.

The militants relocated to those regions after capturing much of the Tigray in June, evicting hundreds of thousands of residents and exacerbating the problem.

"We've really had a hard time getting the prime minister's attention" on this issue and any calls to fix it, a USAID official said after a recent visit to Ethiopia. The official said he requested anonymity because they were not authorized otherwise.

Tigray troops say they are now linked to another armed group, the Oromo Liberation Army, where the alliance began this year.

War could soon spread to Oromo's neighboring Addis Ababa region. The Ethnic Oromo once praised Abiy as the country's first Oromo prime minister, but dissatisfaction has arisen over the imprisonment of Oromo leaders who made no secret of the truth.

The U.S. special envoy to the Horn of Africa, Jeffrey Feltman, told a public event on Tuesday that contact between Tigray troops and other armed groups was dangerous.

The envoy also said he understood why the Ethiopian prime minister did not want to sit at a negotiating table facing Tigray military leaders, but "there are many ways to start smarter negotiations."

Finally, Feltman said, "there will be negotiations because neither side will win."