Not long after AfricaJuice, a Dutch fruit farm, went up in flames, hundreds of protesters brandishing sticks, rocks and a few guns gathered in front of Maranque Plants PLC.

By AFP |

When protesters torched a nearby Dutch-run farm in Ethiopia’s Oromia region, Marc Driessen watched anxiously as smoke billowed above the horizon, fearing his own business would meet the same fate.

“I was really terribly scared because I saw AfricaJuice burning from our farm and we were getting noise from people that most likely our farm would be next,” he told AFP from his flower farm, Maranque Plants PLC, which boasts recently installed solar panels worth 600,000 euros ($650,000).

The farm, some 125 kilometers (77 miles) south of Addis Ababa, is at the heart of the restive Oromia region where anti-government anger erupted into violence after at least 55 people died in a stampede at a religious festival on October 2.

An employee of Maranque was among those killed in the disaster. The stampede was blamed on police who fired tear gas at Oromo demonstrators, who are waging an unprecedented protest movement against the authoritarian Ethiopian government.

After nearly a year of protests demonstrators turned their anger to foreign investors who they blame for occupying land appropriated by the government.

Not long after AfricaJuice, a Dutch fruit farm, went up in flames, hundreds of protesters brandishing sticks, rocks and a few guns gathered in front of Maranque Plants PLC.

It was a group of elders from the nearby village who rushed to the farm on their scooters, who saved the day.

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“We put ourselves in front of the protesters and we told them ‘Maranque is our property, do not burn it. Burning this farm will not change the government. You’ll kill us rather than destroying this farm’. And our youngsters backed away,” said community elder Shumi Telila.

More than 800 residents of the village of Alaga Dore work at the farm.

‘It was like a war’

The spike in violence after the stampede, during which government buildings and more than a dozen foreign companies were targeted, prompted authorities to declare a six-month state of emergency for the first time since the fall of communist dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam in 1991.

Continue reading this story on Daily Mail Online
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