Ethiopia's Tigray conflict: Tens of thousands attend anti-US rally

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People in Addis Ababa stage a massive rally to protest US sanctions over the Tigray conflict

More than 10,000 people have attended an anti-US rally in Ethiopia's capital, Addis Ababa, to denounce President Joe Biden's policy on the conflict in the country's northern region of Tigray.

Mr Biden had called for a ceasefire in the conflict, now in its seventh month.

At the rally, people held placards criticising the US while others applauded Russia's President Vladimir Putin and China's leader Xi Jinping.

The Ethiopian government has come under pressure over the conflict in Tigray.

Thousands of people, mostly civilians, have been killed and at least two million others have been displaced.

The conflict began last November, when Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed ordered an attack on forces loyal to the region's former ruling party, the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), after they had overrun federal army bases.

Mr Abiy declared an end to the conflict after just a month, with the capture of Tigray's capital, Mekelle.

But more than half a year later, Ethiopian troops and those from neighbouring Eritrea are still fighting TPLF forces.

Both sides in the conflict have been accused by human rights groups of committing crimes against civilians, including mass killings and rape.

Last week Mr Biden demanded an end to "large-scale human rights abuses", including "widespread sexual violence" in Tigray. He also warned of a possibility of famine.

The US president also said he was "deeply concerned by the escalating violence and the hardening of regional and ethnic divisions in multiple parts of Ethiopia".

In another development, the US State Department imposed restrictions on economic and security assistance to Ethiopia over the conflict, a move that angered Mr Abiy's government.

The foreign ministry said the move was "regrettable" that could "seriously undermine" US-Ethiopia relations.

The Biden administration has also been pushing for the withdrawal of Eritrean troops who remain in Tigray despite Ethiopian authorities saying weeks ago that they will leave the country.

What happened at the rally?

The meeting was organised by the Ethiopian Youth Ministry and attended by supporters of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.

The mayor of Addis Ababa was one of the main speakers.

"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 is quoted as saying by Reuters news agency.

Image source, Ethiopia Press Agency
Image caption,
Some people held placards applauding Russia's President Vladimir Putin and China's leader Xi Jinping

Most of the demonstrators held slogans written in Amharic, one of the widely spoken languages in the country, as well as in English and Arabic.

Some of them read "Ethiopia doesn't need a guardian", "We demand the US to rethink its stance on Ethiopia", "We will never kneel down for external pressure".

Another said "We elect our leaders", a nod to the country's delayed election on 21 June.

The banners praising Mr Putin and Mr Xi are meant to send a message to the US that Ethiopia has other powerful friends, the BBC's Kalkidan Yibeltal in Addis Ababa reports.

Other rallies denouncing the US were also held in other cities including Diredawa, Harar and Gambella, our reporter says.