Report says scores of Ethiopians have been killed as police fired warning shots and teargas in Oromiya region on Sunday to disperse anti-government protesters at a religious festival, triggering a stampede.
It said that even though government did not give a precise death toll resulting from chaotic scenes during the annual festival, yet the opposition party said no less that 50 people were killed.
According to the report, government merely announced at the festival where some people chanted slogans against the government and waved a rebel group’s flag, that “lives were lost” and that several were injured”.
Meanwhile, witnesses said that 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.
They added that since late 2015, scores of protesters have been killed in clashes with police.
They said that the 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 40 km Addis Ababa.
“Crowds chanted “we need freedom” and “we need justice”, preventing community elders, deemed close to the government, from delivering their speeches at the festival,’’ they said.
The witnesses said that some protesters waved the red, green and yellow flag of the Oromo Liberation Front, a rebel group branded a “terrorist” organisation by the government,.
They said that when police fired teargas and guns into the air, crowds fled and created a stampede, some of them plunging into a deep ditch.
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 also seen being taken by pick-up truck to a hospital.
They noted that the government communications office said in a statement, without giving figures that “As a result of the chaos, lives were lost and several of the injured were taken to hospital, and those responsible will face justice.”
Merera Gudina, Chairman of the opposition Oromo Federalist Congress, said that not less than 50 people were killed, adding that 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.
Meanwhile, government has blamed the rebel groups and dissidents abroad for stirring up the protests and provoking violence.
It dismissed the charges that it clamped 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 Peoples’ 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 have been killed since late in 2015 and this year as protests gathered pace, although the government shelved the boundary plan earlier this year.
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