At Least 50 Killed at Ethiopian Festival after Police React to Protests

At Least 50 Killed at Ethiopian Festival after Police React to Protests

Dozens of people died at an Ethiopian festival after security forces fired tear gas into a crowd during a political protest and provoked a stampede.

Opposition leaders have publically stated that over 100 people lost their lives, but late Sunday, the regional government said 52 were killed.

The Irreecha thanksgiving festival takes place every year, at the conclusion of the “rainy season.” The Oromo, the country’s largest ethnic group have been protesting their marginalization and the confiscation of their land for factories for the past year.

Estimates show that nearly 2 million people were flocking the town at the time of the stampede, but there were probably about 10,000 people in a field facing a podium where the government-aligned tribal elders and party leaders were giving speeches.

Thousands of Oromo put their arms above their heads in an “X” to protest during the speeches, which participants said was more overtly political than usual. Authorities say they tolerated the chants calling for “freedom and justice” and condemning the government throughout the weekend, but on Sunday the protests went over the top.

A witness said the crowd of protesters started moving towards the podium as they grew more violent. Police fired warning shots into the air to break up the protesters, but it didn’t work. That’s when they dispersed the tear gas.

Thousands started fleeing for the bushes behind the field where the speeches were being heard, but they encountered a deep ravine where many were piled on top of and died.

The Ethiopian government said the incident was “planned violence” during the peaceful celebration of a cultural festival. Others believe the incident would have never happened if the government had not tried to intervene on their protests.

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