Ethiopia declares state of emergency as Tigray rebels press toward capital

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Nov. 2 (UPI) — Ethiopia declared a state of emergency on Tuesday as rebel forces from the northern Tigray region said they had gained territory near the country’s capital.

The declaration came after the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, or TPLF, claimed to have taken the key cities of Dessie and Kombolcha, which are located near the main route into the capital city of Addis Abada.

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The TPLF said it was considering marching on Addis Abada as Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed urged citizens to take up arms and defend themselves against the rebels and authorities in the capital also encouraged residents to defend their neighborhoods.

Under the state of emergency, which the government said could last six months, Abiy has powers to arrest and detain critics, impose curfews and restrict media.

Justice Minister Gedion Timothewos also said that anyone older than 18 may be called to join the battle.

“Those who own weapons will be obliged to hand them over to the government,” he said.

Ethiopia last declared a six-month state of emergency in February 2018 as Abiy took power after former Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn’s abrupt resignation.

Jeffrey Feltman, the United States’ special envoy for the Horn of Africa said Tuesday he was alarmed by the humanitarian situation in Ethiopia, saying Washington, D.C., had observed famine and near famine as government restrictions prevented humanitarian help from getting to people.

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U.S. President Joe Biden‘s administration also threatened to remove the country from the African Growth and Opportunity Act trade agreement which grants it duty-free access to the United States, accusing it of “gross violations of internationally recognized human rights.”