Ethiopia’s cabinet on Tuesday declared a nationwide state of emergency as rebels advance towards the capital, Addis Ababa. Fighters from the northern province of Tigray said in recent days that they had seized two important towns, Dessie and Kombolcha, on the main road to Addis Ababa.
Another rebel group from Ethiopia’s largest state Oromia also claimed it was surrounding the capital. The fighters have so far not touched the capital. Fana Broadcasting Corporate said the state of emergency is to protect civilians from possible physical violence or injury.
Authorities in Addis Ababa on Tuesday urged residents to prepare to protect their neighborhoods. They said that those who have weapons should defend their districts while calling on those who are unable to fight to hand privately owned firearms over to the government.
“Residents can gather in their locality and safeguard their surroundings,” the city administration said in a statement. It said there will be an emergency search of homes to find and arrest “troublemakers”.
U.S. President Joe Biden on Tuesday said that he will cut out Ethiopia from a U.S. free trade program since the government has failed to bring an end to the conflict that has dragged for a year.
Ethiopia’s communications since the altercations began on November 4 appear to recognize that the country is fighting both a war of guns and identity. The TPLF had been Tigray’s regional government and it is seen as the political organization encapsulating Tigrayan identity.
Last November, the TPLF was ousted by federal forces. The government declared victory at the end of that month after seizing the regional capital Mekelle. However, the TPLF kept fighting and retook Mekelle and most of Tigray at the end of June after government soldiers withdrew.
Thousands have been killed and millions displaced since the war broke out last November.