ESAT News (October 3, 2016)
From Borena in the south to Sendafa, and Aweday in the east to Wolega, the entire Oromo region of Ethiopia erupted in protest on Monday. Several cars and government offices have been burnt as people are venting their anger over the death of hundreds of people.
Protesters in many major towns in the region took to the streets on Monday and condemned the killing of hundreds of festival goers in Bishoftu, who were celebrating the annual Ireecha, a religious festival to welcome spring.
Sunday saw the deadliest since the anti-government protest began in the region last November as hundreds, up to 500 people according to estimates by Oromo activists, were killed in one day as a stampede ensued when soldiers opened fire and threw tear canisters into the crowd
The festive mood quickly descended into crying out grievances against the minority regime, whom they believe has marginalized the majority Oromos. Oromo activists and media outlets say security forces also shot live bullets into the crowd indiscriminately killing several festival goers.
There is still no exact figure as to the number of dead. Twenty-three bodies were found on Monday in ravines near the site of the celebrations. But Mulatu Gemechu, Vice Chair of the Oromo National Congress, told the Voice of America Amharic service that his party has confirmed the death of 678 people in the national tragedy.
Funeral processions turned protest rallies in the region on Monday. Borena, east and west Shewa, Shashemene, Arsi, Dodola, east and west Hararge and Guder were few of the places that saw protests on Monday.
A father of nine, who lost his wife and one of his daughters, called on the international community to act to stop what he called “madness in Ethiopia.” Speaking to ESAT on the phone from Sendafa, Dereje Urgie said he lost his 35-year old wife of and 19-year old daughter, whom he said were the world to him. “All we had was love and respect to one another in our 35 years of marriage,” Dereje said about his late wife.
“We never had any acrimonies in all these years and we were raising our children as any good parents would,” he added.
He said family members found the bodies of their loved ones in a tent and there was nobody responsible to tell them what had happened to them. He also said family members have examined the bodies and found evidence of smoke inhalation in their nostrils. He believes his loved ones were poisoned by the excessive teargas used by regime forces in dispersing the crowds.
In Bule Hora, Southern Ethiopia, protesters freed political prisoners and set two prisons on fire. They have also set ablaze the regional court and the regional office of the ruling party, EPRDF. A resident of Bule Hora told ESAT on the phone that security forces shot and killed two people on Monday. The source said the people have overwhelmed the anti-riot police and seized their gears. Protesters also set several government offices ablaze in Bule Hora.
Gunfire was being heard all day in Ambo, west of the capital Addis Ababa, where protesters burnt government vehicles and offices.
Transportation was shut down on Monday in most places in the Oromo region.
Prime Minister Halemariam Desalegn blamed the killings on what he called few individuals from opposition elements bent on creating violence. To the indignation of many Ethiopians, he thanked regime’s forces “for keeping the peace.” Government media puts the death toll from Sunday’s carnage at 55, seen by many as a routine underreporting of deaths caused by security forces.
Sunday’s mass killings perhaps mark the deadliest since the protests began in November 2015 against economic and political marginalization imposed by a minority government over majority Oromos.
Rights groups report that over one thousand protesters were killed and tens of thousands remain in detention.
Meanwhile, the Ethiopian Satellite Television and Radio (ESAT) announced a three-day mourning, beginning Monday, in remembrance of those who lost their lives on Sunday. The management and staff of ESAT also expressed deep sorrow over the death of hundreds of compatriots due to the senseless act of violence by the regime against peaceful citizens.