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Ethiopia nears war as PM orders military into defiant region

Storyline:National News, World

By Associated Press

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AP) — Ethiopia’s Nobel Peace Prize-winning prime minister on Wednesday ordered the military to confront the country’s Tigray regional government after he said it carried out a deadly attack on a military base overnight, citing months of “provocation and incitement” and declaring “the last red line has been crossed.”

The statement by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s office, and the reported attack by the well-armed Tigray People’s Liberation Front, immediately raised concerns that one of Africa’s most populous and powerful countries could plunge back into war. That would send a shock wave through the Horn of Africa and beyond.

Addressing the nation on TV, Abiy announced “several martyrs” in the attack in Mekele, the northern Tigray region’s capital, and Dansha town.

The prime minister said “the end is near” for the regional force, which is based in Ethiopia’s most sensitive region, neighboring Eritrea. The two countries made peace in 2018after a long border war.

The TPLF had been the dominant part of Ethiopia’s governing coalition before Abiy took office in 2018 and announced sweeping political reforms that won him the Nobel last year. Those reforms, however, have opened space for old ethnic and other grievances. The TPLF, feeling marginalized, left the coalition last year. It remains a strong military force, observers say.

Ethiopia on Wednesday declared a six-month state of emergency in the Tigray region, saying that “illegal and violent activities within the National Regional State of Tigray are endangering the constitution and constitutional order, public peace and security, specially threatening the country’s sovereignty.”

There was no immediate word from the TPLF, and all internet and phone lines were cut in the Tigray region following the announcement. Tigray TV reported that airspace has been closed over the region, and it asserted that the northern command of Ethiopia’s military had defected to the Tigray government. The prime minister’s office told The Associated Press the defection report was “not true.”

Ethiopia was already stressed by a dispute with Egypt over a massive Ethiopian dam projectthat has drawn rare attention by President Donald Trump to Africa, and by a multi-layer crisis with the COVID-19 pandemic, deadly ethnic violenceand a locust outbreak.

Now the greatest test of Abiy’s rule has has come.

Tigray officials have objected to the postponement of Ethiopia’s national election, once set for August, because of the coronavirus pandemic, and the extension of Abiy’s time in office.

On Sunday, a senior TPLF official, Getachew Reda, told the AP his side will not accept a negotiation with the federal government.