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The BBC's Peter Biles
The Ethiopian helicopter flew freely over what had been the Eritrean front line
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The BBC's Cathy Jenkins
"Eritrea has sidestepped questions"
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The BBC's Nita Bhalla
"Demonstration designed to show strength and solidarity"
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Monday, 15 May, 2000, 19:35 GMT 20:35 UK
Ethiopians push into Eritrea
Protesters at embassy gates
Protesters threw stones at Western embassies
Ethiopia has made a substantial push into territory previously held by Eritrea.

The news came as hundreds of thousands of Ethiopians joined a demonstration condemning United Nations Security Council plans for sanctions against the warring neighbours.

The demonstration became violent at times, with stones thrown at Western journalists and embassies.

Eritrea has meanwhile claimed to have shot down Ethiopian aircraft close to where the Ethiopian gains were made.

Click here to see a map of the area

On Ethiopia's northern border, BBC correspondent Peter Biles flew with Ethiopian military officers in a helicopter over Eritrean territory now occupied by Ethiopian soldiers near the western part of the front line.

The helicopter crossed the Mereb River, which at that point forms the internationally recognised boundary between the two countries, and flew over the abandoned Eritrean trenches.

Eritrean soldiers
The Eritrean army has been forced to retreat from the western front
One of the commanding officers involved in the offensive, Colonel Atakilti Berhe, said the Eritrean forces had been pushed back 20 or 30 kilometres inside Eritrea, although there is no independent confirmation of this claim.

Our correspondent says the Eritreans have suffered a major setback on the western front, although the position along other sections of the border is less clear.

'Aircraft downed'

But an Eritrean official told Reuters news agency that "thousands" of Ethiopian soldiers were killed in a "real massacre" on the western front on Monday.

"Eritrea also managed to shoot down a Sukhoi 27, and a MI 24 helicopter gunship at the Mereb-Setit front on Monday," the official, Yemane Gebreab, added.

But there has been no independent verification of these claims, and the Eritrean Government has avoided answering questions about whether its troops have been pushed back.

BBC East Africa correspondent Cathy Jenkins, reporting from Asmara, says the lack of information from the Eritrean side suggests that the fighting has not gone the way Eritrea wanted.

Thousands demonstrate

The protests in Addis Ababa were against UN demands for an immediate halt to the fighting with Eritrea.

Ethiopian flags and patriotic slogans among a crowd of thousands
At least 200,000 people turned out in the capital's central square, waving Ethiopian flags and carrying banners with slogans such as "UK and US stop your double standards".

Violence broke out a times, with particular anger directed at the UK and US, which support the implementation of sanctions.

A group of foreign journalists took shelter in a building after demonstrators threw sticks and stones at them.

Stones were also thrown at the UK and US embassies, and a US flag was burnt.

Schools and government insitutions in the capital were closed on Monday to encourage people to attend the demonstration, organised by Addis Ababa city council.

The Ethiopian authorities called for the protests on Saturday, after the UN gave the two countries three days to halt the latest outbreak of fighting between them.

The UN Security Council is to meet later on Monday, and is expected to impose sanctions against the two warring countries.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said at the weekend that, by threatening sanctions, the Security Council was "punishing the victim of aggression, Ethiopia".

Ethiopians fear that their landlocked country will suffer particularly badly as a result of the proposed sanctions.

'Air strikes'

On Monday morning, Ethiopian radio reported that Ethiopian air strikes had been carried out near the strategically-important Eritrean town of Barentu.

Barentu lies on an important supply route between two sections of the Eritrean front line.

Military sources in Asmara admit, however, that the Ethiopian army has taken positions on the Mendefera-Shambuko road, the main supply line connecting Eritrean troops on the central and western fronts.

Both sides claim to have killed thousands of enemy soldiers in the past three days.

Fighting resumed early on Friday, spreading rapidly from the western front to two other battle fronts.

Although war originally broke out in May 1998, the disputed border has been largely quiet since the middle of 1999.

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See also:

14 May 00 | Africa
Ethiopia votes amid war
14 May 00 | Africa
Ethiopia goes to the polls
13 May 00 | Africa
Call to end Horn war
11 May 00 | Africa
EU presses for Horn peace deal
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