American woman killed in Ethiopia as protests surge after stampede

Protesters run from tear gas during the thanksgiving festival of the Oromo people in Ethiopia, Oct 2, 2016.
Protesters run from tear gas during the thanksgiving festival of the Oromo people in Ethiopia, Oct 2, 2016.PHOTO: REUTERS

ADDIS ABABA (AFP) - An American woman was killed by a rock thrown in a town outside the Ethiopian capital, the US embassy said on Wednesday (Oct 5), as anti-government anger sparked fresh protests after a deadly stampede.

Protesters stoned the vehicle the woman was travelling in as demonstrations sprung up in parts of the capital and the restive Oromia region on Tuesday, several targeting foreign companies, after the weekend stampede blamed on police.

"A passenger van was hit by rocks thrown by unknown individuals on the outskirts of the city of Addis Ababa. One of the passengers, a US citizen, was struck by a rock and subsequently died from her injury," said a statement from the embassy.

 
 

Vehicles were stoned in several parts of the tense capital, and on Wednesday the mobile internet network was down in Addis Ababa - a measure regularly taken by authorities to stop the spread of calls to protest.

Ethiopia is facing its biggest anti-government unrest in a decade, from the majority Oromo and Amhara ethnic groups which feel marginalised by a minority-led government.

An Oromo religious festival on Sunday ended in tragedy when police fired tear-gas on anti-government protesters, sparking panic in the massive crowd and triggering a stampede.

Medical sources and authorities gave differing death tolls of between 52 and 58; however, the opposition believes it is much higher.

"Given the contradictory accounts, it is critical that an investigation be held to unearth the truth and to identify law enforcement officers criminally responsible," said Michelle Kagari of Amnesty International's regional office.

Protests have subsequently broken out in several parts of the Oromia region and elsewhere, some targeting foreign companies which are regarded as supporting and being backed by the central government.

In the southern Awash valley, a Dutch fruit juice company AfricaJuice was attacked by protesters.

"The farm was targeted by a very large group of people. Two of our staff have been injured," chief executive officer Harry Van Neer told AFP on Wednesday, adding there had been extensive damages and looting.

State-controlled Fana radio reported the looting of a cement company owned by Nigerian businessman Aliko Dangote.

Last month, a Dutch flower farm was attacked by anti-government protesters in the northern Amhara region. The company, Esmeralda Farms, decided to pull out of the country, which investors have long considered one of the most stable on the continent.

"Investors are worried. Some of them are starting to ask for tighter clauses in their contracts, asking the government to take responsibility if their installations are damaged," a diplomat told AFP on condition of anonymity.

However, Zhang Huarong, the president of Chinese company Huajian, which exports three million pairs of shoes from Ethiopia every month, said he was not worried.

"Ethiopian ministers are calling me saying they will handle this. We are confident Ethiopians will handle this. We won't leave," he said.

Together, Oromos and Amharas make up 60 per cent of the population of Ethiopia.

The protesters accuse the country's leaders, who largely hail from the northern Tigray region, of monopolising power.

International rights groups estimate at least 500 demonstrators have been killed in a bloody crackdown on protests over the past 10 months.