People of the Oromo ethnic group were divided on Sunday in reaction to an anti-government protest that would eventually degenerate into a deadly stampede in one of Ethiopia’s most politically sensitive regions.
An estimated two million people gathered on Sunday for the annual Oromo religious festival, known locally as Irrecha, in the town of Bishoftu. The festival, however, quickly turned into a protest, with sections of the crowd starting to shout anti-government slogans and making anti-government gestures.
Police fired tear gas and warning shots to disperse the protesters, prompting a scramble as people attempted to flee. At least 55 people were killed and hundreds more were injured in the stampede.
For some of the attendees, the festival-turned-tragedy was completely unexpected.
“We went early in the morning and when we returned, we saw people protesting. It’s changed the mood here. I wish this wasn’t the case. Who knows what will happen next?” said Taye Kebede, who was among those attending Sunday’s celebrations.
Others said the celebrations served as a good opportunity to voice their demands.
“The celebrations were good, but people here are saying ‘no’ to the government and we support this,” said Genale Asfawa, another attendee.
“We wanted this holiday to bring freedom and confidence to our people. We wanted solidarity this year. We want to be free!” said attendee Besi Tesfaye.
During an official announcement on Monday, Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn accused opposition elements of instigating violent protests in Ethiopia, and called for calm as authorities continue to track down those responsible.
The government has declared three days of mourning for the victims.
Story by CCTV News