Ethiopian leader heads to war frontlines as Olympians join army

Gold medalist Haile Gebreselassie, who set 27 long-distance running records, told Reuters he was competing. So is Olympic silver medalist Feyisa Lelisa, local media reported.

While Abiy is gone, Deputy Prime Minister Demeke Mekonnen Hassen would take charge of routine government affairs in his absence, government spokesman Legesse Tulu told a news conference, according to a report by news channel Fana.

Abiy announced late Monday that he intended to personally lead the fight against the Tigrayan forces and their allies.

“Let’s meet on the war front,” he wrote, “The time has come to lead the country with sacrifice.”

Last month, Tigrayan forces and their allies threatened to march towards the capital Addis Ababa. They have also fought fiercely to try to cut off a transportation corridor connecting landlocked Ethiopia to the region’s main port, Djibouti.

On Tuesday, US special envoy Jeffrey Feltman said Ethiopian military and regional militias could have stopped Tigrayan’s attempts to cut through the corridor, but Tigrayan forces were able to move south toward the capital.

Ethiopia’s military spokesman did not respond to requests for comment.

Ethiopian police have trained about 147,000 civilians in the capital to form neighborhood defense groups and track down possible infiltrators, police told Reuters.

Diplomats expelled

Feltman has been working with former Nigerian president, now African Union envoy Olusegun Obasanjo, to try and negotiate a ceasefire between the two sides.

On Tuesday, Feltman said the nascent progress was at risk of being overshadowed by military developments.

Ethiopia expelled four out of six Irish diplomats on Wednesday over Ireland’s stance on the conflict, Irish Foreign Secretary Simon Coveney said.

Ethiopia is at war with itself.  Here's what you need to know about the conflict:

Ireland has been at the forefront of calling UN Security Council meetings on Ethiopia and pushing for Council statements on the conflict since it joined the 15-member body in January.

“Ireland has been spotlighting things that have happened in Ethiopia which are in fact violations of international law and are a serious humanitarian and human rights issue,” he told Ireland’s RTE radio.

“Unfortunately, we’ve already had a lot of deaths and deaths in Ethiopia this year, but it could get a lot worse in the coming weeks … which is why the Ethiopian government has unfortunately decided to target Ireland.”

Dina Mufti, spokesman for the Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Irish Foreign Office said its embassy would remain open but it had asked its citizens to leave immediately by commercial means, saying those planning to visit should avoid travel.

Also on Wednesday, Switzerland and Britain advised their citizens to leave Ethiopia, citing the deteriorating security situation. France and the United States have already called on citizens to leave.

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