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Ethiopian Airlines staff prepare their plane as they resume flights to Eritrea's capital Asmara at the Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia July 18, 2018.

First commercial flight in 20 years leaves Ethiopia for Eritrea
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Wed, July 18, 2018 11:33

ADDIS ABABA, July 18, 2018 (AFP) - The first commercial flight to Eritrea in two decades departed Wednesday from Addis Ababa after the two nations ended their bitter conflict in a whirlwind peace process.

Ethiopian Airlines said that flight ET0312 to Asmara had departed Bole International Airport, the latest concrete sign of a thaw between the neighbouring countries which began only six weeks ago.

"This day marks a unique event in the history of Ethiopia and Eritrea," the airline's chief executive Tewolde GebreMariam said at a ceremony inaugurating the historic flight.

Overwhelming demand saw the African aviation giant operate two flights within 15 minutes of each other.

"The fact that we are taking two flights at a time shows the eagerness of the people," said Tewolde.

An AFP journalist onboard the second flight said champagne was served to passengers in all classes, who toasted each other shortly before take-off.

Smiling flight attendants also handed out roses to the passengers.

Ethiopian Airlines, one of Africa's fastest-growing carriers, has said it would initially operate a once-a-day return flight between Addis Ababa and Asmara.

"With the demand we are witnessing, I think we're going to increase the frequency to twice a day, thrice a day and even more," said Tewolde.

He said the opening of the Eritrean airspace to Ethiopian Airlines would also mean more efficient routes to the Middle East.

Among the passengers on the first flight was former prime minister Hailemariam Desalegn, whose shock resignation in February was the first step in a series of shake ups in Ethiopian politics and the Horn of Africa at large.

"I knew one day it would happen," Hailemariam said of the peace with Eritrea.

Hailemariam was succeeded in April by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, a 42-year-old former army officer and cabinet minister described by analysts as a "man in an extreme hurry".

After announcing the liberalisation of parts of the Ethiopian economy and releasing jailed dissidents, Abiy last month declared his intention to make peace with Eritrea after two decades of frozen relations.

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