Ethiopia Declares State of Emergency to Stymie Rebel Advance
(Bloomberg) -- Ethiopia’s government declared a nationwide state of emergency and called on residents to defend the capital after rebel fighters captured key towns on a main road that leads to the city.
The decision to suspend the constitution was taken to “ward off a threat that is posed to the survival and sovereignty of the country,” Justice Minister Gedion Timothewos said on state television on Tuesday. “Since we cannot defend and control this threat with the regular law-enforcement system, the state of emergency proclamation is approved by the council of ministers.”
The escalating crisis in Ethiopia can further destabilize the Horn of Africa -- Sudan is reeling from a coup, while Somalia is struggling to hold long-delayed elections -- and enable Islamist insurgents to get a bigger foothold in the volatile region. Tuesday’s announcement comes a month after Nobel-laureate Abiy Ahmed was sworn in for a second term as prime minister and almost a year to the day since he launched an offensive on the dissident Tigray region.
“The stability of Ethiopia and the wider region is at stake,” Stéphane Dujarric, spokesman for the United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said in a statement. Guterres “reiterates his call for an immediate cessation of hostilities, unrestricted humanitarian access to deliver urgent life-saving assistance, and an inclusive national dialogue to resolve this crisis.”
Fighting between the federal army and Tigray People’s Liberation Front has escalated since the start of October, with the rebels advancing steadily south.
The TPLF captured the towns of Dessie and Kombolcha in the Amhara region, which provide access to one of Ethiopia’s main trade routes, at the weekend. Since then, they’ve seized the town of Habru near Dessie and are considering advancing on Addis Ababa, said senior TPLF official Getachew Reda.
An assault on Addis Ababa “looks more like today than was the case say last month,” he said by phone on Tuesday.
The yield on Ethiopia’s $1 billion of Eurobonds jumped the most in a month in London on Tuesday to a record 14.77%. The rate on the debt has more than doubled since the Tigray conflict erupted on Nov. 3, 2020. Moody’s Investors Service cut the nation’s credit rating in October for a second time since May to Caa2, citing a delay in the nation’s planned debt restructuring and an escalating civil war.
The territorial gains claimed by the TPLF follow those by ethnic Oromo rebels in the Amhara region. Oromo Liberation Army spokesman Odaa Tarbii said his forces are present in Kemise, south of Kombolcha, and Bati to the east. Some OLA forces are “in direct contact” with Tigrayan fighters, he said by phone.
“A joint southward push will happen once OLA forces consolidate control” over areas that have been captured. “To begin the final push in the coming days we expect the southward push to link with our central zone forces. Following that, it will not take long to get to Addis.”
The U.S. special envoy to the Horn of Africa, Jeffrey Feltman, said the situation in Ethiopia is “dire” and deteriorating.
“Without question the situation is getting worse and we are frankly alarmed by the situation,” he said. “The parties do not seem anywhere near to the point of agreeing to deescalate a negotiated ceasefire and some kind of talks.”
Feltman spoke after the Biden administration announced its suspending Ethiopia’s access to its preferential-trade agreement -- a decision that places further strain on an economy already struggling with the effects of the war and the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
“We need to know that the current heavy-handed efforts to tarnish the reputation of our country is a ploy to facilitate the path for Ethiopia’s fate to be that of Libya and Syria,” Abiy, who won the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize for ending two decades of acrimony with neighboring Eritrea, said on the anniversary of the start of the conflict.
The U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa, home to the headquarters of the African Union, said it’s restricted personnel from traveling outside of the capital, and urged U.S. citizens to “seriously reconsider” travel to Ethiopia and those who are currently in the country to consider making preparations to leave, according to a statement on its Facebook page.
The state of emergency, which will last for six months, allows the Ethiopian army to conscript any able person and enables the authorities to implement curfews or arrest people without court orders.
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