Ethiopia’s government votes to remove leaders in Tigray as unrest moves towards civil war

Ethiopia’s government has voted to remove leaders in the northern region of Tigray as the country appears to be on the brink of a civil war.

Fighting erupted between regional forces in Tigray and those of the federal government this week after months of unrest.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed claimed there had been airstrikes on military targets in Tigray on Friday amid the fallout between its leaders and the government, and vowed there would be further bombing of the region.

On Saturday, the country’s upper house of parliament voted to set up a transitional administration in Tigray – paving the way for the removal of the region’s leadership.

The decision needs no further approval, and it gives Mr Ahmed the power to co-ordinate and carry out the measures.

Ethiopia’s federal government says “the transitional administration will appoint officials, ensure the respect for rule of law, approve the region’s budget and facilitate the process of conducting elections.”

And Mr Ahmed tweeted on Saturday: “Our operation aims to end the impunity that has prevailed for far too long and hold accountable individuals and groups under the laws of the land.”

The military conflict, which has raised fears of civil war, broke out following weeks of tension after the Tigray region voted in a local election in September that Ethiopia’s federal government deemed illegal.

The ongoing crisis, which threatens the stability of the country, known as the Horn of Africa, has been building for months.

Deputy director of the International Crisis Group’s Africa programme, Dino Mahtani described it as “like watching a train crash in slow motion”.

Now, Mr Ahmed – who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize last year for sweeping political reforms – is facing the sharpest consequences yet of the country’s recent shifts in power.

Communications were cut in the heavily-armed Tigray region on Wednesday after Mr Ahmed announced he had ordered troops to respond to an alleged deadly attack by the region’s forces on a military base.

Both sides have accused each other of starting the fighting – and by Thursday, Ethiopia’s army said it was deploying troops from around the country to Tigray.

Tigray’s leader then announced that “we are ready to be martyrs” before casualties were reported on both sides.

On Friday, Mr Ahmed announced his government had carried out airstrikes in the “first round of operation” against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), while the Tigray region is increasingly cut off.

The conflict has been compared to an inter-state war by experts as the two large and well-trained forces show little sign of backing down.

The TPLF has objected to Ethiopia’s delayed election due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as Mr Ahmed’s extended time in office.

The federal government later diverted funding from the TPLF executive to local governments, which angered the regional leadership.

The conflict could now spread to other parts of the country of some 110 million people, where some regions have been calling for more autonomy and violence has prompted the federal government to enforce measures such as arresting critics.

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