Ethiopia Arrests 500 Ahead of Irreechaa Festival

At least 500 people have been arrested by authorities in Ethiopia’s most populous state, Oromia, ahead of the Irreechaa Festival.

The Irreechaa festival is a thanksgiving holiday of the Oromo people, the country’s largest ethnic group.

Authorities claim those arrested were working to cause disturbances during the festival.

Oromia police commissioner Ararsa Merdasa said on Thursday that in addition to the individuals arrested, a number of firearms, pistols and hand grenades were seized.

The arrests come amid growing concerns about political violence in the country.

The festival will be celebrated on Saturday and Sunday in the capital, Addis Ababa, and across Oromia.

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In previous years, tens of thousands of people attended the festival but this year, only a few people will be able to attend as the authorities have put in place restrictions that they say are necessitated by the Covid-19 pandemic.

This year’s festival comes against the backdrop of palpable tension and unrest in Oromia. On June 29, the assassination of popular Oromo singer Hachalu Hundessa triggered a violent eruption, leaving hundreds killed, some by security forces, others by civilian perpetrators, and wide spread property destruction and displacement.

In response, the government detained thousands, including prominent politicians it accuses of involvement in the violence. Security presence in towns in Oromia has been beefed up, and recent civilian protests have been met with a heavy-handed response from the government.

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