Ethiopians stone embassies in anti-sanctions protest

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The British and US embassies in Addis Ababa were stoned by angry mobs yesterday when at least 200,000 people took to the streets to protest against threatened United Nations sanctions.

The protest came as Ethiopian forces pushed across the frontline and into territory formerly held by Eritrea, as part of the military offensive that has sparked the UN threats. The UN Security Council was meeting in New York late last night to debate an arms embargo.

The demonstrators, who included school children and Orthodox priests, chanted anti-British and anti-US slogans in the main Meskel Square. They were encouraged by the Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi, who had declared a national holiday.

A group of Western journalists had to flee after being stoned, and a crowd estimated at 2,000 gathered outside the British Embassy and threw stones, breaking windows and injuring security staff.

The building was closed and staff were ordered to remain within the embassy compound. A spokeswoman said the estimated 800 British citizens living in Ethiopia were being advised to "keep their heads down until this dies down".

The US Embassy was also closed when a crowd of about 15,000 attacked it with stones and burned the US flag.

Ethiopia has been sharply criticised since it resumed the war with neighbouring Eritrea on Friday, two days after peace talks collapsed. Britain and the United States spearheaded a UN Security Council motion threatening both sides with sanctions if they did not stop fighting within 72 hours.

That deadline passed at midnight last night with little sign of either side laying down their arms. Britain is expected to call for an arms embargo, although Britain's ambassador to the UN, Sir Jeremy Greenstock, said there were indications that the sides may yet pull back from the brink.

Any UN embargo is likely to be opposed by Security Council members Russia and China, which have made millions from arms sales to both sides. One Western diplomat yesterday questioned how effective an arms embargo would be "with with such porous borders and friends who don't care about any UN embargo?"

Sanctions on fuel or oil would disrupt the work of Western aid agencies that have scrambled to assist the millions who are threatened by famine.

Yesterday saw the first confirmation of claims by Ethiopia that it had advanced into Eritrean frontlines. A BBC correspondent flew in a military helicopter over abandoned Eritrean trenches along the Mereb river, at the western end of the 620-mile frontline.

Eritrea is acknowledging the loss but says it killed or injured 25,000 Ethiopian soldiers in the battle. Yesterday, it claimed it had inflicted heavy casualties in fighting on the western front. Both sides have routinely exaggerated victories and played down or ignored losses during the two-year war.

The protest yesterday shows how much Ethiopia has isolated itself from the West. Last month Ethiopia criticised the West for "waiting to see skeletons" before responding to an impending famine.