ADDIS ABABA: Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has gone to direct the war from the front lines, state-affiliated media reported on Wednesday, as two Olympian athletes announced they were enlisting in the military.
Gold medallist Haile Gebrselassie, who set 27 long distance running records, told Reuters he was joining up. So is Olympic silver medallist runner Feyisa Lelisa, local media reported.
“What would you do when the existence of a country is at stake? You just put down everything. Alas, nothing will bind you. I am sorry!” Gebrselassie told Reuters.
While Ahmed is away, Deputy Prime Minister Demeke Mekonnen Hassen would take charge of routine government business in his absence, government spokesman Legesse Tulu told a news conference, according to a report from Fana news outlet.
Ahmed announced late on Monday he was planning to personally direct the fight against Tigrayan forces and their allies. “Let’s meet at the warfront,” he wrote “The time has come to lead the country with sacrifice.”
Last month Tigrayan forces and their allies threatened to march on the capital Addis Ababa. They have also been fighting fiercely to try to cut a transport corridor linking landlocked Ethiopia with the region’s main port Djibouti.
On Tuesday, US Special Envoy Jeffrey Feltman said the Ethiopian military and regional militias had been able to hold back Tigrayan attempts to cut the corridor, but Tigrayan forces had been able to move south towards the capital.
Ethiopia’s military spokesperson did not respond to requests for comment.
Ethiopian police have trained around 147,000 civilians in the capital to form neighbourhood defence groups and help detect possible infiltrates, police told Reuters.