Spectre of civil war hangs over Ethiopian rebel region of Tigray

·2-min read

Hundreds of Ethiopians have gathered to donate blood for troops fighting in the northern Tigray region, as officials tried to rally support for a week-old conflict which analysts fear could spiral into a protracted civil war.

The Ethiopian government announced that police in the capital, Addis Ababah, have arrested 150 people suspected of planning to carry out "terror attacks" on the orders of Tigray's ruling party, which Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed blames for the conflict.

Hundreds have died and thousands have fled the country since Abiy, last year's Nobel Peace Prize winner, sent troops and warplanes into Tigray last week after a months-long feud with the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF).

Abiy said the TPLF -- which dominated Ethiopian politics for nearly three decades before he took office in 2018 -- had crossed a "red line" and attacked two federal military bases, which the party denies.

Thursday's blood donation drive was organised by the office of Addis Ababa Mayor Adanech Abebe, who claimed the population was unified against the TPLF.

Solidarity with the Ethiopian army

"The aim of this blood donation is to express our respect for our army," she told French news agency AFP.

"The attack by TPLF on our army is shameful for Ethiopia. Never happened in our history. We want to condemn this."

Tigray has been under a communications blackout since the military operation was launched on 4 November, making it difficult to verify the situation on the ground as both sides make conflicting claims.

In a Facebook post on Thursday, Abiy said government forces had "liberated" the western zone of Tigray -- made up of six zones, plus the capital and surrounding area.

Abiy also accused TPLF-aligned fighters of "cruelty", saying that when the army took control of the town of Sheraro they "found bodies of executed defence force personnel whose hands and feet were tied".

There was no immediate reaction from the TPLF.

Under Abiy, Tigray's leaders have complained of being unfairly targeted in corruption prosecutions and removed from top positions.

Tensions soared as Tigray defiantly held its own elections in September, insisting Abiy was an illegitimate leader after national polls were postponed due to the coronavirus outbreak.