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Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Ethiopia’s Haile Gebrselassie and Feyisa Lilesa ready to join Tigray war


Ethiopian Olympic heroes Haile Gebrselassie and Feyisa Lilesa say they are ready to go to the front line in the war against rebel forces.

Their announcement comes after Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed declared that he would lead the war from the front lines.

Tigrayan insurgents claim to be advancing on Addis Abeba, the Ethiopian capital.

In the midst of an escalation in the civil war, Germany and France have become the latest countries to advise their citizens to leave Ethiopia.

On Tuesday, US envoy to the region Jeffrey Feltman warned that worrying developments on the ground were jeopardising tentative diplomatic progress toward resolving the conflict.

The rebels announced earlier this week that they had taken control of Shewa Robit, a town about 225 kilometres (140 miles) north of Addis Abeba. The claim has received no independent confirmation.

Legese Tulu, the Minister of Communication, said the military has had “many successes” since Mr Abiy’s decision to lead the battle, and victory is “so close.”

With Mr Abiy gone to lead the war effort, his deputy, Demeke Mekonnen Hasse, was in charge of routine government business, according to a spokesman quoted by state-linked media.

Mr. Abiy’s announcement has boosted army recruitment, with hundreds of new recruits attending a ceremony in Addis Abeba on Wednesday marked by patriotic songs.

Legese Tulu, the Minister of Communication, said the military has had “many successes” since Mr Abiy’s decision to lead the battle, and victory is “so close.”

Gebrselassie, 48, was quoted earlier by state television as saying, “I am ready to do whatever is required of me, including going to the front line.”

In Ethiopia, Gebrselassie is regarded as a legend, and his comments were interpreted as an attempt to rally public support for the war effort.

During his 25-year athletic career, he won two Olympic gold medals, eight World Championships, and set 27 world records. In 2015, he announced his retirement from competitive running.

Feyisa, 31, expressed his support for the war, telling the state-run Fana Broadcasting Corporation website that he was ready to draw inspiration from the “gallantry of my forefathers” and go to the front lines to “save my country.”

At the 2016 Rio Olympics, the athlete took silver in the marathon.

Feyisa Lilesa made the protest at Rio 2016 as he took silver in the marathon

He became famous for holding up his crossed wrists as if they were shackled in order to draw international attention to Ethiopia’s crackdown on demonstrators demanding political reforms.

The Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) was the ruling party at the time. Following the protests, Mr Abiy was elected Prime Minister, and the TPLF lost its 27-year grip on the country.

It later withdrew to its stronghold of Tigray, from which it launched a rebellion last November following a major squabble with Mr Abiy over his reforms.

The war has caused a massive humanitarian crisis, killing thousands, displacing millions, and putting hundreds of thousands in famine-like conditions as aid agencies battle to get food into war-torn areas.

The African Union is leading efforts to bring the fighting to a negotiated end, but neither side has committed to talks.

The TPLF is advancing on the A2 highway towards Addis Abeba, having previously stated that they had taken Kemise.

The prospect of some of Ethiopia’s most revered sporting figures fighting on the front lines captures something profound and powerful about the mood in Addis Abeba and elsewhere.

In the midst of a crisis, many Ethiopians are clearly rallying behind their flag and prime minister, eager to help galvanise public support for a military campaign that has suffered undeniable setbacks in recent months, though much remains in dispute in terms of casualty figures and battlefield momentum.

Many people clearly see the military threat posed by the TPLF and their various allies as an existential one for Ethiopia.

In addition, there is a strong dislike for the TPLF as a result of its decades as the head of an authoritarian national government. However, there is more to it than that.

The prime minister has attempted to portray his country as a victim of a vast international conspiracy aimed at weakening Ethiopia and punishing it for allegedly challenging Western colonial interests on the continent.

Western media are portrayed as enthusiastic supporters of that conspiracy theory, which appears to have gained widespread credibility in a country grappling with how the rebel group could have made such startling progress.

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