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Ethiopia rebels reject ‘bloodbath’ fears as pro-government crowds rally

Several countries have urged their nationals to leave Ethiopia and the US has withdrawn diplomats as the year-long conflict in the north escalates.

Tens of thousands joined a pro-government rally on Sunday, blasting Western media for broadcasting “fake news” overstating rebel gains. (AFP)

Rebels fighting Ethiopia’s government have played down reports that they would face a hostile population or cause a “bloodbath” if they advanced into Addis Ababa, even as tens of thousands joined a pro-government rally in the capital on Sunday.

“The story that the population in Addis is vehemently opposed to us is absolutely overstated,” Getachew Reda, spokesman for Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) told AFP in an interview on Saturday night.

“Addis is a melting pot. People with all kinds of interests live in Addis. The claim that Addis will turn into a bloodbath if we enter Addis is absolutely ridiculous.”

While the rebels would enter Addis Ababa to overthrow Abiy, he said taking the capital was not “an objective”.

He also said the TPLF, which dominated Ethiopia’s politics for nearly 30 years until Abiy came to power in 2018, had no desire to take back power.

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Pro-government rally

Tens of thousands joined a pro-government rally on Sunday where attendees dismissed Western diplomatic efforts to end the conflict, spearheaded by US official Jeffrey Feltman who arrived in the country on Thursday.

Rally-goers held signs blasting Western media for broadcasting “fake news” overstating rebel gains and urging the US to “stop sucking our blood”.

Addis Ababa mayor Adanech Abebe said in a speech that Ethiopia’s foes were trying to “terrorise our population”.

“They say Addis Ababa is surrounded, but Addis Ababa is only surrounded by its incredible people, by its vigilant, heroic children,” she said.

Several Addis Ababa residents said on Sunday they did not fear the TPLF.

“They won’t come to Addis because I believe the military can destroy them,” said clothing vendor Kebede Hailu.

Year-long war

Rebels from the TPLF and their allies have been locked in a year-long war with the government that has killed thousands and pushed many more into desperate conditions in the vast east African nation.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, winner of the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize, sent troops into Tigray in November last year to take down the TPLF, accusing them of attacking military bases.

But the TPLF and their allies have claimed several victories in recent weeks, taking towns some 400 kilometres from the capital, and have not ruled out marching on Addis Ababa.

Several countries have urged their nationals to leave Ethiopia and the US has withdrawn diplomats as the year-long conflict in the north escalates.

The TPLF was formed in 1975 in the mountainous northern region to show resentment at the power of the centralised Ethiopian state

Inspired by Marxist-Leninism, they started as a small band of insurgents who became a guerrilla army.

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