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Ethiopia's PM defiant as rebel Tigray forces make advances

Ethiopia’s prime minister has called on his supporters to redouble their efforts in the country's civil war, as rebel forces claimed to have seized key cities that control a major highway toward the capital.

A move on the capital, Addis Ababa, would signal a new phase in the war that has killed thousands of people since fighting broke out almost a year ago between Ethiopian government troops and Tigray forces in the country's northern region.

The prime minister’s spokeswoman, Billene Seyoum, did not immediately respond to a question Monday about the government leader’s current whereabouts or travel plans.

Residents dig through rubble from a destroyed building at the scene of an airstrike in Mekele, in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia Thursday, Oct. 28, 2021. An Ethiopian government spokesman says a new airstrike has hit Mekele, targeting a site used by rival Tigray forces to make and repair weapons, while a Tigray spokesman instead says it struck a "civilian residence" killing six people and wounding more than 20. (AP Photo)

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in a statement on Sunday said federal troops are fighting on four fronts against the Tigray forces and that “we should know that our enemy’s main strength is our weakness and unpreparedness.”

The Tigray forces this weekend told The Associated Press they were poised to physically link up with another armed group, the Oromo Liberation Army, with which it struck an alliance earlier this year. The Tigray forces now claim to control the key cities of Dessie and Kombolcha, though the federal government disputes this claim.

The fighting could reach the Oromo region that neighbors the country's capital. Ethnic Oromo once hailed Abiy as the country’s first Oromo prime minister, but discontent has since emerged with the jailing of outspoken ethnic leaders.

Captured Ethiopian government soldiers and allied militia members are paraded by Tigray forces through the streets in open-top trucks, as they arrived to be taken to a detention center in Mekele, the capital of the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia Friday, Oct. 22, 2021. Ethiopian military airstrikes on Friday forced a United Nations humanitarian flight to abandon its landing in Mekele, aid workers said, and a government spokesman said authorities were aware of the inbound flight. (AP Photo)

Also on Sunday, the government of the Amhara region, where fighting has been focused since Tigray forces retook much of their own region in June, ordered almost all government institutions to stop their regular activities and join the war effort. It also banned most activities in cities and towns after 8 p.m.

The Tigray forces say they are pressuring Ethiopia’s government to lift a months-long blockade on their region of around 6 million people.

Tigray leaders long dominated the national government before Ahmed took office in 2018.

Captured Ethiopian government soldiers and allied militia members are paraded by Tigray forces through the streets in open-top trucks, center, as they arrived to be taken to a detention center in Mekele, the capital of the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia Friday, Oct. 22, 2021. Ethiopian military airstrikes on Friday forced a United Nations humanitarian flight to abandon its landing in Mekele, aid workers said, and a government spokesman said authorities were aware of the inbound flight. (AP Photo)