Ethiopia's prime minister heads to frontline of civil war as Olympians enlist in army

Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed led the war from the front, state-affiliated media reported on Wednesday, when two Olympic athletes announced they were signing up for the military.

Gold medalist Haile Gebreselassie, who set 27 long-distance records, told Reuters he would join. Local media reported that Olympic silver medalist Feyisa Lelisa was one of them.

During Abiy’s absence, Deputy Prime Minister Demeke Mekonnen Hassen would take over the routine business of government in his absence, government spokesman Legesse Tulu said at a press conference, according to a report by Fana news agency.

Ethiopian government soldiers leave on Aug.Ben Curtis / AP file

Abiy announced late Monday that he planned to personally lead the fight against the Tigrayan forces and their allies.

“Let’s meet on the war front,” he wrote. “The time has come to lead the country with sacrifices.”

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Last month, Tigrayan troops and their allies threatened to march on the capital Addis Ababa. They also fought fiercely to try to cut a transportation corridor connecting interior Ethiopia to the region’s main port, Djibouti.

Ethiopia’s Police Sergeant Belete Adigo provides guidance to an unarmed vigilante group at a police station before they go on their nightly local patrol after Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed urged citizens to surrender their territories in front of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front in Addis Ababa on November 19 protect, 2021.Tiksa Negeri / Reuters

On Tuesday, U.S. Special Envoy Jeffrey Feltman said the Ethiopian military and regional militias had been able to hold back Tigrayan attempts to sever the corridor, but Tigrayan forces had been able to advance south towards the capital.

Ethiopia’s military spokesman did not respond to requests for comment.

Ethiopian police have trained around 147,000 civilians in the capital to form neighborhood defense groups and track down possible intruders, police told Reuters.

Diplomats expelled

Feltman, together with former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, the envoy of the African Union, tried to broker a ceasefire between the two sides.

On Tuesday, Feltman said emerging advances are at risk of being overshadowed by military developments.

Ethiopia expelled four out of six Irish diplomats on Wednesday because of Ireland’s stance on the conflict, said Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney.

The Ethiopian world record holder Haile Gebrselassie will take part in the 20th edition of the Great Ethiopian Run in Addis Ababa on January 10, 2021.Minasse Wondimu Hailu / Anadolu Agency via Getty Images file

Ireland since joining the 15-member body in January has been at the forefront of convening UN Security Council meetings on Ethiopia and calling for Council statements on the conflict.

“Ireland has put in the spotlight the things that happened in Ethiopia that are genuinely contrary to international law and have serious humanitarian and human rights concerns,” he told Irish radio RTE.

“Unfortunately we have had many deaths and many murders in Ethiopia this year, but it could get much worse in the next few weeks … and that’s why the Ethiopian government has unfortunately decided to go to Ireland.”

Dina Mufti, spokeswoman for the Ethiopian Foreign Ministry, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Irish Foreign Office said its embassy will remain open but has urged its citizens to enter commercial avenues immediately and said those planning to visit should avoid travel.

Also on Wednesday, Switzerland and Great Britain advised their citizens to leave Ethiopia, citing the deteriorating security situation. France and the USA have already asked citizens to leave the country.

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