Ethiopia declares emergency over Tigray ‘rebels’ advancing towards capital, as US ‘strongly’ urges its citizens to leave country

Ethiopia has declared a state of emergency as forces of the northern Tigray region continued to gain ground. The deteriorating situation prompted the US to urge its citizens to leave, and to restrict embassy staff movement.

A six-month state of emergency was announced by Ethiopian authorities on Tuesday. The move comes after forces loyal to the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) captured several towns over the past few days, declaring their intention to advance towards the capital Addis Ababa.

“Our country is facing a grave danger to its existence, sovereignty and unity. And we can’t dispel this danger through the usual law enforcement systems and procedures,” Justice Minister Gedion Timothewos told a media briefing.

The advance of the Tigray forces was reportedly followed by the effective collapse of several government units. Footage circulating online purports to show Ethiopian soldiers surrendering in their hundreds, with numerous units of military hardware captured or destroyed by the rebels.

Over the weekend, Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed urged citizens to take up arms and aid government forces to fend off the advancing troops of the rogue northern region. Ahead of the state of emergency announcement, Ethiopian authorities also urged citizens to register any arms they have and prepare to defend their neighborhoods.

The deepening crisis prompted the US embassy in Ethiopia to urge any Americans currently in the country to pack up and leave, while barring its own personnel from leaving the capital.

“US Embassy personnel are currently restricted from traveling outside of Addis Ababa city limits. We strongly suggest that US citizens seriously reconsider travel to Ethiopia and those who are currently in Ethiopia consider making preparations to leave the country,” the mission said in a statement.

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Earlier in the day, the US also announced plans to remove Ethiopia from its trade benefits list, which provided duty-free access to the American market. In a letter to Congress, President Joe Biden suggested the move, citing concerns over democracy and human rights in the east African country

Ethiopian authorities said they were “extremely disappointed” by this move, urging Washington to reverse its decision.

“The Ethiopian government takes all human rights allegations seriously: we are looking at them and conducting investigations and we are committed to ensuring accountability,” the ministry of trade responded in a statement.

The ongoing turmoil in Ethiopia began back in November 2020, when Abiy Ahmed launched a military operation against Tigray, citing the need “to restore the rule of law” in the region. The TPLF is a powerful faction which ruled Ethiopia for years before Abiy came to power in 2018 amid protests against the TPLF government.

Ethiopian troops promptly took control of the rogue region, but the fighting continued and the rebellious faction recaptured Tigray’s capital and other key locations back in June. Since then, the fighting has spilled over into other regions of the country, with the TPLF forces making large gains against the government.

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The ongoing conflict has garnered widespread international condemnation, leaving a major dent in the image of the premier, who was once touted as a peacemaker for signing a peace treaty with neighboring Eritrea and is the recipient of the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize. Both parties to the conflict have been accused of human rights violations, extrajudicial killings and other abuses, with the fighting forcing thousands of civilians to flee their homes.

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