Concerns are growing that the fighting in Ethiopia’s Tigray is starting to resemble a campaign of ethnic cleansing.
Ethiopian pro-government demonstrators have denounced the United States for imposing restrictions on aid over the Tigray conflict, at a huge rally organised by the authorities to show support for their positions.
More than 10,000 people attended the rally on Sunday, some carrying banners written in English, Arabic and Amharic. “Ethiopia does not need (a) caretaker,” declared one banner at Addis Ababa Stadium, while others denounced “western intervention”.
A placard that read “Fill the dam” was also seen, a reference to a huge Nile dam opposed by Egypt and Sudan.
“We will never kneel down. The preconditions and travel restrictions by the US and its allies are completely unacceptable. It needs to be corrected,” Adanech Abebe, mayor of Addis Ababa, told the rally organised by the ministry of youth.
The demonstration was larger than typical pro-government rallies, and the public criticism of the US was rare.
Ethiopia is facing increasing international pressure over the conflict in its northern Tigray region, where it and neighbouring Eritrea sent troops last year to overthrow the regional authorities.
A week ago, the United States imposed restrictions on economic and security assistance to Ethiopia over the conflict. Washington also said it would bar current or former Ethiopian or Eritrean officials it deems responsible for the crisis.
The crisis began in November after Ethiopia accused former leaders of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) of ordering an attack on an Ethiopian army base in the region.
Troops sent by Ethiopia’s leader, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, quickly overthrew the TPLF from major cities and towns, but fighting is still reported across Tigray.
Atrocities including gang rapes, extrajudicial killings and expulsions have been part of the violence in Tigray, according to victims, witnesses, local authorities and aid groups. Thousands of people are estimated to have died.
More than 2 million people have been displaced by the war.
Meddling in ‘internal affairs’
Abiy’s government denounced the US sanctions as “a resolve to meddle in our internal affairs” and warned Addis Ababa could be forced to reassess its bilateral relationship with Washington.
Nejash Sheba, a 23-year old Addis Ababa trader and member of Abiy’s Prosperity Party, told Reuters news agency he had been instructed by local officials to organise people in his area, and had brought 100 others with him to the rally.
“I came here to show my support to Prosperity Party and to denounce the restrictions put on Ethiopia by America.”
The filling of the $4bn Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam has also sparked international disputes.
Ethiopia says the dam’s electricity is needed to develop its economy; Sudan and Egypt say it violates their rights to Nile waters down river.