52 dead in Ethiopia after festival turns into anti-govt protest

A chaotic scene after a thanksgiving ceremony in Ethiopia degenerated into violence on Sunday. Protesters threw stones and bottles. Security forces responded with baton charges and tear gas. There were some reports of gunfire.
A chaotic scene after a thanksgiving ceremony in Ethiopia degenerated into violence on Sunday. Protesters threw stones and bottles. Security forces responded with baton charges and tear gas. There were some reports of gunfire.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

BISHOFTU (Ethiopia) • Ethiopia has begun three days of mourning for 52 people killed in a stampede after police clashed with protesters.

It is the latest episode in a wave of anger against the authoritarian government. Members of the country's largest ethnic group, the Oromo, had gathered on Sunday in the town of Bishoftu, about 50km from the capital Addis Ababa, for a religious festival to mark the end of the rainy season.

However, political grievances took over, with Oromo protesters chanting anti-government slogans and crossing their wrists above their heads, a gesture that has become a symbol of protest against the government.

The event quickly degenerated into violence, with protesters throwing stones and bottles and security forces responding with baton charges and tear gas grenades, with some reports of gunfire. Oromo activists called for "five days of rage" to protest the deaths.

Mr Merera Gudina, chairman of the opposition Oromo Federalist Congress, said he believed there had been many more fatalities than announced. "Bodies are being collected by the government. But what I hear from people on the ground is that the number of dead is more than 100."

The anti-government protests started in the central and western Oromo region in 2015 and spread in recent months to the northern Amhara region.

Oromos and Amharas make up 60 per cent of the population and have become increasingly vocal over what they see as the disproportionate power wielded by the northern Tigrean minority in government and the security forces.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 04, 2016, with the headline '52 dead in Ethiopia after festival turns into anti-govt protest'. Print Edition | Subscribe