Thousands of Ethiopians gathered in the nation's capital Sunday to protest outside pressure on the government over its brutal war in Tigray.
Protesters at the rally in Addis Ababa carried banners that criticized the United States and others in the international community who are voicing concern over atrocities in Tigray, where Ethiopian forces are hunting down the region's ousted and now-fugitive leaders. Troops from neighboring Eritrea are fighting in Tigray on the side of Ethiopian government forces, in defiance of international calls for their withdrawal.
But the protesters in Addis Ababa carried placards that read: “Ethiopian young people denounce the western intervention.” Others said Ethiopia's sovereignty was at stake.
The U.S. said last week it has started restricting visas for government and military officials of Ethiopia and Eritrea, who are seen as undermining efforts to resolve the fighting in Tigray, home to an estimated 6 million of Ethiopia’s 110 million people. Besides the visa restrictions, Washington is imposing wide-ranging restrictions on economic and security assistance to Ethiopia.
Testifying on Capitol Hill last week, Robert Godec, the U.S. acting assistant secretary for the Bureau of African Affairs, said Ethiopia is now at a turning point and, unless it reverses course, could face further measures such as Magnitsky Act sanctions that can include asset freezes.
Atrocities including brutal gang-rapes, extrajudicial killings and forced evictions have been part of the violence in Tigray, according to victims, witnesses, local authorities and aid groups. Thousands of people are estimated to have died.
The Ethiopian government called U.S. actions “misguided” and “regrettable.”
“The Ethiopian government will not be deterred by this unfortunate decision of the U.S. administration,” said the statement tweeted by the ministry of foreign affairs.
“If such a resolve to meddle in our internal affairs and undermining the century-old bilateral ties continues unabated, the government of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia will be forced to reassess its relations with the United States, which might have implications beyond our bilateral relationship,” said the statement.
The crisis began in November after Ethiopia accused former leaders of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, or TPLF, of ordering an attack on an Ethiopian army base in the region.
Troops sent by Ethiopia’s leader, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, quickly ousted the TPLF from major cities and towns, but guerrilla fighting is still reported across Tigray.
More than 2 million people have been displaced by the war.