Oromo protesters had crossed their arms as they chanted anti-government slogans and threatened to take over a stage where traditional leaders were due to speak.

By William Davison (Bloomberg) |

The Ethiopian government’s deadly mishandling of a protest at a cultural event by the Oromo people threatens to reignite demonstrations across the country’s largest region and worsen political risk in one of the U.S.’s key African allies.

The Association for Human Rights in Ethiopia estimates as many as 100 people were crushed to death or drowned on Sunday as they fled from regional police firing tear gas, rubber bullets and live rounds to disperse a crowd in Bishoftu city, 28 miles (45 kilometers) southeast of the capital, Addis Ababa.

Oromo protesters had crossed their arms — a symbol of resistance by Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group that’s been demonstrating for almost a year — as they chanted anti-government slogans and threatened to take over a stage where traditional leaders were due to speak. Government spokesman Getachew Reda put the death toll at 55 and said some of the protesters were responsible for the stampede.

ALSO READ: In Pictures: Ethiopia Oromo Deaths – CNN

“People are now angry and we expect a huge backlash in Oromia,” said Milkessa Midega, a doctoral candidate at the Center for Federal Studies at Addis Ababa University. “This is going to inflame another round of deadly protests.”

The U.S. considers Ethiopia a bulwark in the Horn of Africa, a region troubled by failing states. With one of Africa’s fastest-growing economies, Ethiopia is part of an internationally funded African force battling al-Qaida-linked militants in neighboring Somalia and also has peacekeeping troops in South Sudan and Sudan.

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