Faced with a crackdown on rebels in the Ogaden region, involvement in the conflict in Somalia, and a border row with Eritrea, the government has said that the celebrations should focus on peace and democracy.

Meles Zenawi, the prime minister, said: "Our country's transition to the third millennium is not only that of crossing another 1,000 years, but also a period of fundamental changes for the better."

Expensive event

Ethiopians will start their millennium celebrations in the capital, Addis Ababa, with a cultural event on the night of September 11.

However, some Ethiopians have complained that the ticket prices to the celebrations are beyond their reach.

The average annual per capita income for an Ethiopian peaked at $160 in 2005.

The government says the event
symbolises a new beginning [AFP]
But ticket prices range from $270 to $330.

Teferi Zeleke, an aid worker from Addis Ababa, said: "How could you expect the average Ethiopian to afford that kind of price when the amount he receives as salary per year is lower than the ticket price?

"Not only will they miss the concert, they won't watch it on television as most of them don't have one."

The venue built for the party is said to accommodate about 20,000 people, and will be dismantled months after the celebrations, fuelling public resentment in a country in need of long-term investment.

Teferi said: "That amount is a huge sum of money, imagine the number of people that could have benefitted from it had it been spent somewhere else. We need hospitals and schools, not temporary concert halls meant for rich performers."

The concert hall is said to have been financed by Sheikh Mohammed al-Amoudi, a Saudi-Ethiopian billionaire, who has sponsored various concerts.

Meanwhile, organisers are using the millennium as a chance to showcase Ethiopia's reputation as the "cradle of humanity" and the only African country to resist colonialism.

'There is nothing'

Critics have labelled the party Menem Yellum (There is Nothing) in Amharic, after previous events in the country, including the Great Ethiopia Run, had been cancelled or postponed at the last minute because of security concerns.
 
As many as 300,000 visitors were expected to travel to Ethiopia to take part in a New Year's Eve concert, but less than a tenth of that number have travelled to the country in the past two months, officials have said.

Despite the setbacks, some Ethiopians are optimistic.

Senait Arefaine, a UN information officer, said: "I want the world to see that we are now one.
 
"And I want them to see our culture. They've already seen hungry, skinny Ethiopians, now they will see beautiful Ethiopians having a good time and hoping for a better future."