At least 156 people in Ethiopia’s Oromia region have been killed in riots sparked by the killing of a popular singer and anti-government activist last week, Voice of America (VOA) reported on Sunday.
Popular musician Hachalu Hundessa was gunned down on the night of June 29 in Addis Ababa. By the next day, the singer’s death had triggered large protests and violence resulting in at least 50 deaths. This prompted the government to shut down internet service nationwide on June 30, reportedly in an effort to suppress instigations of violence and protest online. The internet shutdown remains in effect, making it difficult for human rights monitors to accurately document the killings in ongoing riots. So far, at least 156 people are believed to have been killed in the ensuing violence, Turkey’s Anadolu Agency (AA) reported on Monday.
According to VOA, the protests in response to Hundessa’s death last week have now evolved into “heightened ethnic tensions” across Ethiopia as the unrest has spread from Addis Ababa to the singer’s native Oromia region, the country’s largest region, which completely surrounds the national capital.
“Most of the deaths occurred in Oromia with others killed in the capital of Addis Ababa by security forces or in cases of inter-ethnic violence in the past week. At least 2,000 people have been arrested,” VOA reported.
Although the Oromo people constitute the largest ethnic group in Ethiopia, its members have a long history of protesting against the government for various grievances, including “claim[s] to have suffered systematic discrimination and oppression at the hands of Ethiopia’s federal government,” Newsweek reported in 2016 when Oromo people were organizing protests against the federal government’s plan to expand the national capital into surrounding Oromo territory. The unrest resulted in hundreds of deaths.
The most recent Oromo-related violence has killed “145 civilians, 11 police officers, and also caused a lot of material damage,” Ethiopian police told AA on Monday.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed claimed on Friday that “violence in [Ethiopia] was an attempt to instigate a civil war” and that it has “been foiled.” According to the report, the prime minister said it was important to hold accountable “not only those who committed the heinous crimes” but also those who are “pulling the strings.”
Abiy has been Ethiopia’s prime minister since 2018 and won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019 for peacefully resolving an over 20-year conflict between Ethiopia and its Horn of Africa neighbor, Eritrea. According to AA, “Hundessa was a prominent figure in successful anti-government demonstrations that lasted for three years before Abiy, who hails from the Oromo ethnic group, came into power.”