NAIROBI, Kenya — For a year now, fighters from Ethiopia’s northern region of Tigray have faced off against Ethiopia’s army largely alone, repulsing their attacks, capturing towns and, this week, advancing on the capital, Addis Ababa.
But on Friday, the Tigrayans announced that they were banding together with eight other opposition groups to oust Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed — through political negotiation or military force if necessary — and install a transitional government.
“We are left with one option — changing the situation; otherwise we’ll all be massacred,” said Berhane Gebre-Christos, who formerly served as Ethiopia’s foreign minister, speaking for the Tigrayan rebel group, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front. He spoke on Friday in a news conference at the National Press Club in Washington, joined by representatives from the other groups in the alliance.
He urged a resolution “before Ethiopia implodes and affects the region.”
Ethiopia’s attorney general and justice minister, Gedion Timothewos, dismissed the coalition as a “publicity stunt,” saying that some of the organizations had no traction or support.
“I don’t think it will have that much of an impact,” he said in an online news conference on Friday.
The announcement of the alliance comes just days after the rebels captured two towns about 160 miles northeast of Addis Ababa. Ethiopia declared a state of emergency, asked citizens to pick up arms to defend the capital and rounded up ethnic Tigrayans whom the government accused of sympathizing with the rebels now threatening the capital.
The United Nations and the Ethiopian human rights commission published a joint report this week pointing to “appalling levels of brutality” in the war, including extrajudicial killings, sexual violence and attacks on refugees.
Diplomats from the United States, Europe and Africa scrambled to find a negotiated solution. The Ethiopian prime minister met on Friday with Jeffrey Feltman, the American envoy to the Horn of Africa, in an effort to resolve the crisis, and “held constructive discussions,” Billene Seyoum, a government spokeswoman, said in a written response.
The U.S. Embassy in Ethiopia advised American citizens on Friday to leave the country “as soon as possible,” and added that “the security environment in Ethiopia is very fluid.”
But Ms. Seyoum dismissed reports in recent days of an atmosphere of siege in the capital, calling it disinformation.
“The capital is moving about with a sense of normalcy,” she said in the online news conference.
The new alliance, analysts say, adds a measure of political pressure to Mr. Abiy’s woes. He already faces escalating military resistance in divergent pockets of Ethiopia, and the prospect of economic problems as rebels threaten to block a crucial road connecting landlocked Ethiopia to the port in Djibouti to the east.
The alliance’s formation “is another sign that the political tides are changing,” said William Davison, a senior Ethiopia analyst with the International Crisis Group.