Annual Celebration Turns Deadly in Ethiopia

by Selam

An annual cultural event in the Oromiya region of Ethiopia, attended annually by hundreds of thousands, turned deadly Sunday when police fired teargas and warning shots to disperse anti-government protesters.

The tear gas caused a panic and triggered a stampede in Bishoftu, a town about 40 kilometers southeast of the capital, Addis Ababa, and local officials reported that 52 people were killed. But witnesses told VOA at least 100 lost their lives.

The witnesses said those at the festival – known as Irreecha – were angered during the speech of an Oromo traditional leader known as the Abba Gadaa and objected to the flag near the stage representing the Ethiopian government. A group of young people rushed the stage and tried to remove the flag, and security forces responded by beating the protesters. Soldiers fired tear gas and people panicked and ran for safety.

“I have been celebrating Irreecha for about 10 years but this year’s event was filled with tension,” an eyewitness told VOA. “There were a lot of police who surrounded the city. People were chanting ‘we don’t want it,’ rejecting the current government and said that they want their own administration and opposed the government.” The witness, who declined to be named, also said helicopters hovered over Bisoftu Lake during the event, adding to the tension.

Protesters run from tear gas being fired by police during Irreecha, the thanks giving festival of the Oromo people in Bishoftu town of Oromia region, Ethiopia, Oct. 2, 2016.

Protesters run from tear gas being fired by police during Irreecha, the thanks giving festival of the Oromo people in Bishoftu town of Oromia region, Ethiopia, Oct. 2, 2016.

In a statement broadcast on national television, Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn said the disruption was intentionally caused by people within the event seeking to

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