Anti-government protests are sweeping through Ethiopia and turning deadly

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Demonstrators chant slogans while flashing the Oromo protest gesture during Irreecha, the thanksgiving festival of the Oromo people, in Bishoftu town, Oromia region, Ethiopia, October 2, 2016.
source
Thomson Reuters

At least 55 people, including one US citizen, died during a stampede following a clash between anti-government protesters and police in Ethiopia on Sunday.

Protests over economic conditions and widespread human rights abuses began last November in Ethiopia’s Oromia region.

Riots and violent clashes between demonstrators and law enforcement have become disturbingly common over the last year.

This weekend’s protest was just the latest in a string of increasingly bitter and, in many cases, fatal confrontations between the people and the government.


On Sunday, people gathered during Ireecha, the thanksgiving festival celebrated by the Oromo, Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group.

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Demonstrators chant slogans while flashing the Oromo protest gesture during Irreecha, the thanksgiving festival of the Oromo people, in Bishoftu town, Oromia region, Ethiopia.
source
Thomson Reuters


As demonstrators began to gather during the celebration, police reportedly threw tear gas and fired warning shots to quell protesters. A stampede ensued that killed 55 people.

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Police fire tear gas to disperse protesters during Irreecha, the thanksgiving festival of the Oromo people in Bishoftu town of Oromia region, Ethiopia, October 2, 2016.
source
Thomson Reuters

A US citizen, 31-year-old postdoctoral student Sharon Gray, was among those who died and was the first foreigner to be killed during Ethiopia’s tumultuous political climate.

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People assist an injured protestor during Irrechaa, the thanks giving festival of the Oromo people in Bishoftu town of Oromia region, Ethiopia.
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Thomson Reuters

Source: Reuters


Activist groups are claiming the actual death toll is much higher than 55, with some citing numbers as high as 300. One activist claimed that people had been driven to jump off a cliff when troops and a helicopter gunship opened fire.

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A protestor washes his face after being tear-gassed by security personnel during Irrechaa, the thanks giving festival of the Oromo people in Bishoftu town of Oromia region, Ethiopia.
source
Thomson Reuters

Source: BBC Africa


The country’s two largest ethnic groups, the Oromo and the Amhara, were sharply divided in the past but have come together to fight the government because of perceived exclusion from Ethiopia’s quickly growing economy and the political process.

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Demonstrators chant slogans while flashing the Oromo protest gesture during Irreecha, the thanksgiving festival of the Oromo people, in Bishoftu town, Oromia region, Ethiopia.
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Thomson Reuters

Source: Qz


Public figures have joined with demonstrators. Oromo Ethiopian runner and Olympic silver medalist Feyisa Lilesa crossed his arms over his head in solidarity with protesters as he crossed the finish line at the Rio Olympics this August. “The Ethiopian government is killing my people, so I stand with all protests anywhere, as Oromo is my tribe,” Lilesa said at a news conference following the race.

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Feyisa Lilesa (ETH) of Ethiopia celebrates his second place finish at the Rio Olympics on August 21, 2016.
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Thomson Reuters

Source: LA Times


Human Rights Watch estimates that since the protests began in November 2015, at least 400 people have been killed, thousands injured, and tens of thousands have been arrested.

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An injured protester waits for help after several people died during the Irrechaa, the thanks giving festival of the Oromo people in Bishoftu town of Oromia region, Ethiopia.
source
Thomson Reuters

Source: Human Rights Watch


At a demonstration earlier this year, in August, at least 97 peaceful protesters were killed when Ethiopian security forces fired “live bullets” into the crowd, according to Amnesty International.

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Policemen attempt to control protesters chanting slogans during a demonstration over what they say is unfair distribution of wealth at Meskel Square in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa, August 6, 2016.
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Thomson Reuters

Source: Amnesty International


Activists across Ethiopia took to Twitter and Facebook to showcase the violence of the protests in August, using the hashtag #OromoProtests. Some pictures and videos that were shared reportedly showed police violently beating protesters. Shortly after, internet access was shut down across Ethiopia.

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A man mourns during the funeral of Tesfu Tadese Biru, 32, a construction engineer who died during a stampede after police fired warning shots at an anti-government protest in Bishoftu during Irreecha, the thanksgiving festival of the Oromo people, in Denkaka Kebele, Ethiopia, October 3, 2016.
source
Thomson Reuters

Source: Qz


While activists and opposition groups have accused security forces of provoking the most recent attacks, Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn has denied the allegations, claiming protesters had pre-planned the violence that led to the stampede.

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Demonstrators chant slogans while flashing the Oromo protest gesture during Irreecha, the thanksgiving festival of the Oromo people, in Bishoftu town, Oromia region, Ethiopia.
source
Thomson Reuters

Source: BBC Africa


As protests and civil unrest within the country continue to flare, Prime Minister Desalegn has reportedly been concerned that Ethiopia could descend into ethnic violence, which is difficult to control and has historically led to thousands being slaughtered.

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Demonstrators chant slogans while flashing the Oromo protest gesture during Irreecha, the thanksgiving festival of the Oromo people, in Bishoftu town, Oromia region, Ethiopia.
source
Thomson Reuters

Source: BBC Africa