Ethiopian Olympic heroes Haile Gebrselassie and Feyisa Lilesa ready to go to the front line in the war against rebel forces.

Ethiopian Olympic heroes Haile Gebrselassie and Feyisa Lilesa ready to go to the front line in the war against rebel forces.

Haile Gebrselassie
Ethiopian Olympic heroes Haile Gebrselassie and Feyisa Lilesa ready to go to the front line in the war against rebel forces.—

Their announcement comes after Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said he would go to the front to lead the war.

Tigrayan rebels say they are advancing towards the capital Addis Ababa.

Germany and France have become the latest countries to advise their citizens to leave Ethiopia, amid an escalation in the civil war.

On Tuesday, US envoy to the region Jeffrey Feltman warned that tentative diplomatic progress towards ending the conflict was being jeopardised by alarming developments on the ground.

The rebels earlier this week said that they had taken control of Shewa Robit, a town about 225km (140 miles) north-east of Addis Ababa. There is no independent confirmation of the claim.

Communication Minister Legese Tulu said the military has had “many successes” since Mr Abiy’s decision to lead the battle, and victory was “so close”.

With Mr Abiy gone to direct the war effort, his deputy, Demeke Mekonnen Hasse, had taken charge of routine government business, a spokesman was quoted by state-linked media as saying.

Mr Abiy’s announcement has bolstered recruitment for the army, with hundreds of new recruits attending a ceremony, marked by patriotic songs, in Addis Ababa on Wednesday.

Earlier, Gebrselassie, 48, was quoted by state television as saying: “I am ready to do whatever is required of me, including going to the front line.”

Gebrselassie is regarded as a legend in Ethiopia, and his comments were seen as an attempt to rally public support behind the war effort.

During his 25-year career as an athlete, he claimed two Olympic gold medals, eight World Championship victories and set 27 world records. He announced his retirement from competitive running in 2015.

Expressing his support for the war, Feyisa, 31, was quoted by the state-affiliated Fana Broadcasting Corporation website as saying that he was ready to draw inspiration from the “gallantry of my forefathers” and go to the front line to “save my country”.

The athlete won the marathon silver at the 2016 Rio Olympics.

 

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