- Region has seen anti-government demonstrations since November
- Government acknowledges some deaths, calls demos illegal
Protests in Ethiopia’s Oromia region turned deadly, the government and witnesses said, the latest in a wave of unrest that’s posed one of the biggest challenges to the African nation’s ruling coalition since it came to power 25 years ago.
Chanting crowds gathered in Ambo in central Oromia early Saturday, with one person killed by security forces as they tried to disperse protesters, resident Solan Terfasa said by phone. In Nekemte, western Oromia, witness Aga Wirtu said he saw at least four people shot dead in a crackdown on demonstrators. Communications Minister Getachew Reda called the protests illegal.
The Oromo comprise about one-third of Ethiopia’s population of almost 100 million people. Protesters complain of Oromo farmers being unjustly evicted for development projects and a lack of autonomy in an authoritarian system, despite the group administering its own region in a multi-ethnic federation.
Ibsa Gutuma, a witness in Haramaya, eastern Oromia, said he’d seen seven people killed by security forces as demonstrators converged on the town. Protesters also gathered in Woliso town, about 111 kilometers (69 miles) southwest of the capital, Addis Ababa, according to Seyoum Teshome, a university lecturer.
Getachew said there had been deaths in West Arsi, a zone of the Oromia region, and possibly other areas. “There has to be people responsible for organizing the demonstrations, so they are also responsible for the consequences,” he said by phone.
Ethiopian security forces have killed more than 400 people and arrested tens of thousands during unrest in the Oromia region that began in November, Human Rights Watch said in June. The government says officers have been killed and property damaged during the protests.