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Last Updated: Tuesday, 5 June 2007, 21:12 GMT 22:12 UK
Ethiopia set for millennium party
By Elizabeth Blunt
BBC News, Addis Ababa

Ethiopian children wave the flag in Addis Ababa - 5/6/2007
Ethiopia has begun the countdown to its own year 2000
Ethiopia has launched a programme of festivities in the run-up to its millennium celebrations in September.

The country uses the ancient Coptic calendar. It is about seven years behind the more widely used Gregorian calendar so it is still 1999 there.

The countdown to entering the third millennium on 12 September began with a campaign to plant 60 million trees.

Ethiopia expects many thousands of visitors to come to Addis Ababa for its millennium celebrations in 99 days.

On a bare hillside on the outskirts of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia's President Woldegiorgis Girma launched its millennium celebrations with brass band music, patriotic songs and a flurry of tree-planting.

Firewood demand

This is just the first in a whole series of events leading up to 12 September when, just a little behind the rest of the world, Ethiopia finally enters the 21st Century.

The guests at the event only had to look around them from the sight of the planned new millennium park to see how necessary the tree planting is.

The chilly climate of the Ethiopian highlands creates a huge demand for firewood.

Once the steep slopes are bare, torrential rains carve the eroded earth into deep gullies.

Every Ethiopian is being urged to plant two trees in the millennium season.

Senior government figures and church leaders led the way followed by the entire diplomatic corps.

Some of the ambassadors puffed a little at the unaccustomed exertion in business suits and at high altitude.

But most of them took it all in good heart.

"All of us know that we have to look after this environment," said South Africa's ambassador, Chris Pepani.

"Even if I'm not expected but I'll take personal responsibility to come and have a look at what happened to the tree. Because anything that you plant, you have to look after it."

Among other events planned are the 1000th anniversary celebrations of the historic city of Harar and a millennium race featuring some of Ethiopia's most famous athletes.

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