In a crackdown on Thursday, police in Mekele, the capital of the northern Ethiopian region of Tigray, used batons and arrests to prevent opponents of the regional authorities from gathering, as reported by a local journalist and an organiser.
Three Tigrayan parties, collectively forming an “Alliance for Radical Change,” called for demonstrations against the TPLF (Tigray People’s Liberation Front), the dominant party in Tigray, and its perceived autocratic rule. The protests aimed to highlight the alleged incompetence of the TPLF.
According to a local journalist, riot police completely cordoned off the Romanat Square in Mekele, where the rally was planned, and forcefully confronted demonstrators trying to gain access. The organisers were also arrested.
The city witnessed a heavy police presence, and all roads leading to Mekele were closed. Businesses in the city centre remained shuttered, and the streets were deserted.
Haile Kebede, a leader of Salsay Weyane Tigray (SaWeT), one of the organising parties, informed AFP that at least 26 activists, including the presidents of SaWeT and the Party for Independence of Tigray (TIP), had been detained since the previous day. Two senior officials from the Baytona Party were also among those arrested.
The TPLF-controlled municipality of Mekele had refused to authorise the demonstration, citing a shortage of available police officers in the lead-up to the Ethiopian New Year on September 12. However, the organisers argued that a prior declaration was legally sufficient.
Getachew Reda, leader of the TPLF and head of the Interim Regional Authority (IRA), defended the decision, stating that the government does not need to authorise or prohibit peaceful demonstrations. He clarified that they did not oppose the demonstration but cited security concerns as the reason for their stance.
The TPLF, long dominant in Tigray, ruled Ethiopia for 27 years until Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed came to power in 2018. In late 2020, the TPLF took up arms against the federal government. Following a peace agreement in November 2022, the TPLF resumed control of the Tigray region, home to six million people, constituting 5% of Ethiopia’s population.