Ethiopia’s Abiy Ahmed vows to continue military offensive

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed addressed the nation on Wednesday evening

The Ethiopian prime minister has vowed to continue a military offensive in the northern state of Tigray despite international calls for restraint.

Abiy Ahmed’s administration accused the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) of attacking the military.

The TPLF, which governs the state, said it could not “ignore the danger”.

Tensions between the party, which was once the most powerful force in the country, and the federal government have been building for months.

It had previously accused the federal authorities of plotting to invade the region.

Who urged Ethiopia to show restraint?

On Wednesday, amid the drama of the US election, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a statement calling for an end to any fighting.

“We are saddened by the tragic loss of life and urge immediate action to restore the peace and de-escalate tensions… The protection of civilian safety and security is essential,” he said in a statement.

What did the Ethiopian prime minister say?

In a televised address Mr Abiy, who won the Nobel peace prize last year, said the military’s operation was a success and would continue.

He said the operation was launched in response to a deadly attack on a military camp. He did not say how many people were killed.

What do we know about the fighting?

Details are scant as the prime minister said information would be released once operations were over.

In the early hours of Wednesday morning, he said that he had ordered a military offensive after an army base was taken over by forces loyal to the regional government. He accused the TPLF of launching the attack.

The attack resulted in “many martyrs, injuries and property damage”, he said in a TV address.

On Wednesday, the BBC spoke to eyewitnesses who confirmed that the Northern Command Headquarters in Tigray’s regional capital, Mekelle, was under the control of the Tigray special forces. That does not appear to have changed.

What is the regional government saying?

The leader of Tigray, Debretsion Gebremichael, has said fighting is going on in the western part of the region that borders Amhara state.

He said federal troops, as well as members of soldiers from Amhara, jointly fought Tigray forces on Wednesday.

Mr Debretsion added that his forces seized “almost all” the weaponry from the Northern Command Headquarters

“The people of Tigray shouldn’t be attacked with the weapons in Tigray. We are fully armed now. We are not inferior to them in terms of weaponry, maybe better.”

How are things in Mekelle?

There were reports that the sound of gunfire could be heard early on Wednesday morning, but since then calm has returned to the city.

Streets in Mekelle
Mekelle is calm and people are carrying on with their normal business

The telephone lines, internet and electricity have all been cut and banks are closed, but people are on the streets, witnesses have told the BBC.

There is also a high security presence of members of the regional force.

What’s this all about?

The TPLF was the most powerful partner in Ethiopia’s governing coalition until 2018, when Mr Abiy came to office following nationwide protests by ethnic Oromos. Since then, the party’s power has waned.

Mr Abiy created a new governing party, but the TPLF did not join.

In September, the Tigrayan authorities went ahead with an election in defiance of a nationwide postponement that was put in place following the outbreak of coronavirus.

The federal government had described that election for the Tigray parliament as “illegal”.

Tigray special forces in federal military uniforms
These Tigray special forces were pictured outside the Northern Command Headquarters

Mr Debrestion told reporters on Monday that the government was going to attack – alleging it was punishment for organising the election.

Mr Abiy then accused the TPLF of attacking the military base and sent in the Ethiopian military.

The federal government has also declared a six-month state of emergency in the state of Tigray, and airspace in the region has been closed.

Timeline of key events
Timeline of key events