Constitutional question at the heart of Ethiopia’s fight in ...

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Constitutional question at the heart of Ethiopia’s fight in Tigray

Some see ‘ethnic federalism’ and a ‘nation of nations’ as the country’s salvation, others as its damnation

David Pilling

In 200AD, the Aksumite empire in modern-day Tigray was considered one of the world’s four great civilisations, with Rome, Persia and China.

It had a written language, Ge’ez, it had adopted Christianity and it was renowned for its towering stone obelisks, some of which are still standing. Its borders, which waxed and waned over the empire’s 1,000-year history, stretched to the Red Sea in what is now Eritrea and to Meroe, an ancient desert kingdom in modern-day Sudan.

Today, Aksum, the capital of that former empire, is a battle zone. Ethiopian troops last week captured the town from the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, the regional party (and army) now at war with the central government. The TPLF responded by bombing the town’s airport. About 320km to the south, today’s Tigrayan capital, Mekelle, is also under siege. Federal forces bombarded it on Saturday after the expiry of a 72-hour deadline and to capture the TPLF leadership. A federal military spokesperson had earlier warned Mekelle’s 500,000 civilians: “Save yourself [and] dissociate yourself from this [TPLF] junta; after that there will be no mercy.”..

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