ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia -- Thousands of people in towns across Ethiopia staged demonstrations Saturday against what they say is interference by outsiders in the country's internal affairs.
The rallies included one in the federal capital, Addis Ababa, where many such events have been held in the nearly two years since war broke out in the country's northern region of Tigray.
Some demonstrators displayed banners accusing the U.S. of disrespecting Ethiopia's sovereignty, while others singled out Tigray's fugitive leaders for blame.
The Addis Ababa rally was organized by city authorities.
“We are keen to assure the world that we are always by his side and support the government’s call for our sovereignty," said Jantirar Abay, deputy mayor of Addis Ababa, referring to Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. "We oppose any threat and interference to the unity of Ethiopia and we ask the interfering countries to stop.”
The demonstrations were staged ahead of the expected start of peace talks next week in South Africa between the warring parties. The U.S. said Friday it supports the African Union's efforts to mediate talks to stop fighting in Tigray.
Diplomats have expressed alarm over reports of civilian casualties in the region as Ethiopia’s federal military this week took control of the major town of Shire and the federal government expressed its aim to control Tigray’s airports and institutions. Eritrean troops are fighting alongside Ethiopian federal forces in Tigray.
U.S. officials have called on Eritrean forces to withdraw from Tigray and urged the parties to agree to an immediate cease-fire. The administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, Samantha Power, has described the human cost of the conflict as “staggering.”
The Associated Press reported Friday that dozens of women and girls have been raped and hundreds of civilians killed during fighting, which resumed in August after a lull. Roughly 40 girls and women between the ages of 13 and 80 were raped in the town of Sheraro in northwestern Tigray, according to an internal document prepared by Tigray’s regional Emergency Coordination Centre, which includes regional government bureaus, U.N. agencies and nongovernmental organizations.
The U.N. Security Council discussed the conflict in Ethiopia at a closed meeting Friday but didn’t issue a statement because of divisions among its 15 members.
Diplomats said Norway and the council’s three African members — Kenya, Gabon and Ghana — proposed a statement that would have expressed “grave concern” at reports of increased fighting in Tigray, called for an immediate cessation of hostilities, and urged the parties to recommit to dialogue. But Russia and China blocked its approval, the diplomats said, speaking on condition of anonymity because discussions were private.
“In the past week alone, we’ve seen a serious uptick in fighting and violence,” Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., said in a statement Friday. “The scale of the fighting and deaths rival what we’re seeing in Ukraine, and innocent civilians are being caught in the crossfire.”
The conflict, which began in November 2020, has spread from Tigray into the neighboring regions of Afar and Amhara as Tigray’s leaders try to break the blockade of their region.