Ethiopia MPs back state of emergency in Tigray amid military campaign

Ethiopian parliament

Abiy Ahmed (left), greets ministers and MPs after addressing the house of Parliament in Addis Ababa during a past session. 

Photo credit: File | AFP

Addis Ababa

Ethiopian lawmakers on Thursday endorsed a six-month state of emergency in the northern region of Tigray, a day after Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed ordered military operations there in an escalation of a long-running feud.

The move is part of an attempt by Abiy, winner of last year's Nobel Peace Prize, to assert federal control over a region whose ruling party has openly defied him for months and brands him as illegitimate.

The lower house of parliament "unanimously approved" the state of emergency in a session Thursday morning, state-affiliated Fana Broadcasting Corporate said.

According to the country's constitution, under a state of emergency the government has "all necessary power to protect the country's peace and sovereignty" and can suspend some "political and democratic rights".

Possible curfew

A senior government official told AFP that in Tigray this could lead to a curfew, searches without warrants, transportation and communications restrictions and the detention of "any person that [officials] suspect is taking part in illegal activities that threaten the constitutional order".

The state of emergency could also be extended beyond Tigray if needed, the official said.

Abiy announced military operations in Tigray Wednesday morning.

He said the move came in response to an "attack" by the region's ruling party, the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), on a military camp there.

Speaking on state television Wednesday night, Abiy said there would be further operations in the "coming days".

"In general, when the operations are finished we will disclose them to the public," he said.

‘Liberate’ region

The government has not revealed a timeline or a clear military objective for the campaign, though a spokesman for a newly-formed crisis committee said Wednesday the goal was to "liberate" the region from the TPLF.

Abiy said the initial attack produced "many martyrs", but officials have not provided much information on subsequent military operations.

Fighting so far appears to have been largely concentrated in western Tigray, diplomats and aid workers said.

The TPLF dominated politics in Ethiopia for nearly three decades before Abiy came to power in 2018 on the strength of anti-government protests.

Under Abiy, Tigrayan leaders have complained of being unfairly targeted in corruption prosecutions, removed from top positions and broadly scapegoated for the country's woes.

In previous weeks, tensions had been rising over control of military assets in the region.