Demonstrators packed a stadium in the capital for the pro-government rally, chanting against the US sanctions and waving posters accusing foreign powers of interfering in Ethiopia’s sovereignty.
The rally, and smaller ones elsewhere in Ethiopia, was organised by the Ministry of Women, Children and Youth under the banner “Our voice for freedom and sovereignty”.
Ministry officials had earlier predicted that more than one million would attend nationwide, with 100,000 at Addis Ababa alone. No turnout figures were immediately available.
The public show of pro-government support comes after US President Joe Biden this week condemned the war in Tigray, and his administration imposed restrictions on visas and assistance over the six-month conflict.
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government denounced the US sanctions as “a resolve to meddle in our internal affairs” and warned Addis Ababa could be forced to reassess its bilateral relationship with Washington.
The Tigray conflict erupted in November when Abiy, the winner of the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize, sent troops to confront the leaders of Tigray’s ruling party, accusing them of attacks on federal army camps.
Though he vowed the conflict would be brief, fighting continues more than six months later, and world leaders are warning of a potential humanitarian catastrophe in the northern region.
Eritrean troops, who teamed up with the Ethiopian military, have been implicated in multiple massacres and other atrocities during the Tigray conflict, allegations that Asmara denies.
Biden, among other world leaders, has demanded Eritrean forces withdraw and rights abuses end, as aid groups push for greater access to the region.
Demonstrators at the Addis Ababa rally also waved banners in support of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), calling for the mega-project on the Blue Nile to be filled.
The GERD is a source of national pride for many Ethiopians but fiercely opposed by Egypt and Sudan, who fear their own water supplies downstream will be affected.
Ethiopia has said it will push ahead with a second phase of filling in July and August, even if no agreement has been reached with Sudan and Egypt.