Ethiopian Stampede: Dozens killed in Oromia Festival Stampede

In a horrific incident, dozens have been reportedly crushed to death in a stampede after the police fired tear gas and rubber bullets to stop and disperse the anti-government protestors that came together in Oromia festival celebrations. The actual number of deaths is not confirmed but the Oromia government has confirmed death of atleast 52 people. Many injured have been shifted to hospitals. The annual Irrecha event in Bishoftu was being attended by atleast 2 million people. The incident has taken place in Oromis which is the most sensitive region as it has witnessed several months of dangerous protests in demand for more freedom.

Protestors tried to hamper the celebrations by not allowing the community elders to make speeches at the religious festival which acted as a trigger for the police to fire tear gas and fire shots in the air to disperse the crowd. Protestors shouted slogans against Oromo People’s Democratic Organisation which is one of the four parties which form Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front. Oromia has seen many scattered protests in the last couple of years. Protests originally started among the Oromo which is Ethiopia’s biggest ethnic group but later it spill over to Amhara which is the second largest. The primary point of contention is the ruling coalition is dominated by ethnic group Tigray which comprises only 6 percent of the population. It was in 2014 when small protests had erupted over a development plan for the capital city which required acquisition of the farmland to increase its boundaries. The ruling coalition has rejected calls from UN to send observers to monitor the situation.

The inside-story

Ethiopian government has always kept a great hold on the country and the recent rounds of protests are the biggest such event to have happened in the last 25 years. Although there has been no specific cause which triggered the protests but they are generally a culmination of years of frustration as these groups have been sidelined. Oromos have complained for long time that they have been kept out of country’s political and economic development. Furthermore, the Amharas demand their land which is under the administrative control of Tigray regional state be shifted to the neighbouring Amhara region. They refuse to be ruled by the Tigrayans as they comprise country’s elite. As per the ethnic makeup of Ethiopia, Oromo and Amhara form 34.4% and 27% of the population respectively while Somali, Tigray, Sidama, Gurage and others form 6.2%, 6.1%, 4%. 2.5% and 19.8% respectively. Although there is no formal connection between the protest movements happening in different regions, however the recent wave of protests saw people expressing solidarity with different regions against the ruling government. The Central government faces no political threat from the protests as it is in a strong position being a staunch ally of the West. However, the sequence of events has left it with enough food for thought. Prime Minister has issued a latent threat to protestors saying government has to keep law and order. There are concerns the country can slide into ethnic conflict.

 

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