Ethiopia: many dead in anti-government protest at religious festivalPublished Posted on | By TZTA News
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Police in Ethiopia’s Oromiya region fired teargas and warning shots to disperse anti-government protesters at a religious festival, triggering a stampede the opposition party said killed at least 170 people.
The government did not give a precise death toll resulting from chaotic scenes on Sunday during the annual festival, where some people chanted slogans against the government and waved a rebel flag. But it said “lives were lost” and that several were injured.
Sporadic protests have erupted in Oromiya in the last two years, initially sparked by a land row but increasingly turning more broadly against the government. Since late 2015, scores of protesters have been killed in clashes with police.
These developments highlight tensions in the country where the government has delivered stellar economic growth rates but faced criticism from opponents and rights group that it has trampled on political freedoms.
Thousands of people had gathered for the annual Irreecha festival of thanksgiving in the town of Bishoftu, about 25 miles (40km) south of the capital, Addis Ababa.
Crowds chanted “we need freedom” and “we need justice”, preventing community elders, deemed close to the government, from delivering speeches at the festival. Some protesters waved the red, green and yellow flag of the Oromo Liberation Front, a rebel group branded a terrorist organisation by the government, witnesses said.
When police fired teargas and guns into the air, crowds fled and created a stampede, some of them plunging into a ditch, according to witnesses.
The witnesses said they saw people dragging out a dozen or more victims, showing no obvious sign of life. Half a dozen people, also motionless, were seen being taken by pick-up truck to a hospital, one witness said.
“As a result of the chaos, lives were lost and several of the injured were taken to hospital,” the government communications office said in a statement. “Those responsible will face justice.”
Merera Gudina, the chairman of the opposition Oromo Federalist Congress, told Reuters at least 50 people were killed, saying his group had been talking to families of the victims. He said the government tried to use the event to show Oromiya was calm. “But residents still protested,” he said.
The government blames rebel groups and dissidents abroad for stirring up the protests and provoking violence. It dismisses charges that it clamps down on free speech or its opponents.
Protesters had chanted slogans against Oromo People’s Democratic Organisation, one of the four regional parties that make up the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front, which has ruled the country for quarter of a century.
In a 2015 parliamentary election, opposition parties failed to win a single seat – down from just one in the previous parliament. Opponents accused the government of rigging the vote, a charge government officials dismissed.
Protests in Oromiya province initially flared in 2014 over a development plan for the capital that would have expanded its boundaries, a move seen as threatening farmland.
Scores of people have been killed since late in 2015 and this year as protests gathered pace, although the government shelved the boundary plan earlier this year.
Source: zehabeshaAlso look at International media reports on the incident: CBS News Dozens killed in stampede at anti-government protest in Ethiopia Wall Street Journal Ethiopia Stampede Kills Dozens at Religious Event Washington Post Dozens killed in Ethiopia after police tear gas protest at festival Daily Nation Several dead in Ethiopia stampede Los Angeles Times Dozens killed during stampede at religious celebration in Ethiopia Press Herald Dozens die during stampede at Ethiopia religious event Chicago Tribune Dozens reportedly killed in stampede during religious celebration in Ethiopia Voice of America 50 Ethiopians Killed in Stampede After Confrontation with Police