Recent violent protests in Ethiopia against Nobel Peace Prize laureate and Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has left two dead and many injured.
Tensions remained high in parts of the country after supporters of a high-profile activist took to the streets Wednesday following rumours of his mistreatment by state forces.
Jawar Mohammed, a member of the Oromo ethnic group, who has been a public critic of Abiy, had accused security forces of trying to orchestrate an attack against him.
Police denied reports that Jawar’s security detail was being removed to leave the popular and outspoken figure vulnerable to attack.
But his supporters in Addis Ababa, the capital, and towns mainly across Oromia, blocked roads, burned tyres and chanted slogans denouncing Abiy, who they claim was behind the alleged threat to Jawar.
The clashes had resulted in deaths and injuries in Oromia, one of nine regions in the ethnically diverse country, the state-run Ethiopian News Agency reported Thursday.
“Unrest in Adama city on Wednesday has left two people dead, injured 50 others and caused extensive property damage,” Dejene Muleta, the chief police commander for Adama, a town in Oromia, told ENA.
He did not elaborate on how the deaths occurred.
Shimeles Abdisa, vice president of the Oromia region, also acknowledged some deaths in an interview with regional media Wednesday night.
“I feel very sorry for the lives that have been lost today,” he said. “I want to express my sympathy on behalf of Oromia regional state. We could replace the property which was destroyed but sadly we can’t get back people who lost their lives.”
Witnesses said the atmosphere was tense in Adama on Thursday, with protests and road closures for a second day.
“There are protests again today. The roads are closed and no one is going to school. People are at home. The hospitals are closed and people who need treatment are not getting it,” said Tesfay Bekele, a resident in Adama.
In Addis, supporters of Jawar gathered in large numbers Thursday at his residence after spending the night there, witnesses told AFP.
“All the people are at his house. People came even from outside Addis just to protect him. I walked eight kilometres to get here. We are suspicious of the federal police,” said Ousman Abdulahi, one of Jawar’s supporters.
The unrest highlights divisions within the ethnic Oromo support base that swept Abiy to power last year — divisions that could undermine his position ahead of elections planned for May 2020.
As head of the US-based Oromia Media Network, Jawar played a crucial role in promoting anti-government protests that prompted Ethiopia’s ruling coalition to appoint Abiy as the first prime minister from the Oromo ethnic group, Ethiopia’s largest.
But the two men have been at odds recently, with Jawar openly criticising some of Abiy’s reforms.
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