Happy new year: Ethiopia celebrates the Millennium, seven years late

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In the Millennium Bazaar, a series of market stalls just behind Meskel Square in the centre of Addis Ababa, everything is stamped "2000". From plastic bowls and key rings to packets of crisps and vases of plastic flowers, all are marketed as millennium specials.

Elsewhere in the world today it is 11 September 2007. But in Ethiopia, which runs on a unique Coptic calendar more than seven years behind the Gregorian calendar, it is a far more auspicious day: New Year's Eve, 1999.

Government officials hoped the opportunity to celebrate the dawn of a new millennium for a second time would persuade hundreds of thousands of tourists to descend. Tourism chiefs planned for up to 300,000 visitors, and encouraged those returning from Ethiopia's vast diaspora to stay with family so that the hotels could fit in all the visitors.

A massive concert in a brand new venue in Addis Ababa was planned for Millennium Eve with Beyoncé, Janet Jackson and even Michael Jackson all rumoured at one stage to be playing. A 10-day fair showcasing Ethiopian food was set to be held in Meskel Square, while Ethiopia's greatest long distance runner, Haile Gabriselasie, would lead off the runners at a special Great Ethiopian Run through the capital.

The government hoped that the celebrations would help throw off the image of a country with a poor human rights record and increasingly authoritarian rule.

But as the big day approached, things have not gone to plan. Just 25,000 tourists, less than a tenth of those expected, are now thought to have made the trip. It was still possible yesterday morning to book a room at one of Addis Ababa's main hotels. The run and the food fair have both been cancelled due to unspecified terrorist threats – a reminder of the volatile nature of the Horn of Africa region and of Ethiopia's poor relations with its neighbour Eritrea.

The main concert, now to be headlined by the Black Eyed Peas, has been criticised by locals for being too expensive. The cheapest tickets cost 1,500 birr (£85), or roughly twice the monthly salary of a civil servant.

Despite the problems, many are preparing to celebrate. At BK Style, a women's clothes shop on Africa Avenue, shoppers search for the perfect millennium outfit. According to Mehbuba Kedir, 19, a shop assistant, the past few days have been good for business. "Everyone wants to have something nice to wear," she says.

A short bus ride away, at a crowded coffee shop, Yohannes Yimer, a 26-year-old accountant, is not so convinced. "It is just a day as usual, a simple day," he says, sipping his latte. "If the millennium helps the country to grow it will be nice, but so far the people are not benefiting from it."

The government, Mr Yimes says, is keen to project a new image of Ethiopia. "But our image will only be changed if we change our culture. If after the millennium we have these problems, will that change the image of the country? I don't think so."

Coptic Church

The Coptic Orthodox Church, founded in AD451, has more than 15 million members, mainly in Egypt. It broke away from the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches following the Council of Chalcedon, when the Coptics took a different position on a doctrinal issue – the nature of Christ. Coptics maintain Jesus has a purely divine nature and never became human.

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