Reports have surfaced that at least 50 people have lost their lives after being shot at by security forces in Ethiopia’s Oromia and Amhara regions during the weekend.
The people were protesting the government’s attempts to commandeer some local lands when the security forces opened fire.
While the opposition leader informed the AFP news agency that up to 50 people were killed, Amnesty International puts the death toll of the protests in Ethiopia at more than 90. Merera Gudina, the leader of the opposition Oromo People’s Congress, told AFP;
“We have reports of between 48 to 50 protesters killed in Oromia. This death toll might be higher because there were a lot of wounded,”
A diplomat had confirmed his numbers stating that 49 people had been killed with the towns that were worst hit by the violence being; Nekemte, a town in western Ethiopia where 15 people were killed while 27 died in Bahir Dar, the capital of the Amhara region.
The diplomat who referred to the protests in Ethiopia as ‘low-level, quite disorganized protests scattered all around’, described the government’s response as brutal and pointed out that it “risks provoking more anger and making it worse.”
Amnesty International, on the other hand, put the death toll at 97, with 67 killed in Oromia and 30 in Amhara on Saturday and Sunday. They also said that the bloodshed in Bahir Dar may amount to “extrajudicial killings”.
Michelle Kagari, Amnesty International’s deputy regional director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes, said;
“Ethiopian forces have systematically used excessive force in their mistaken attempts to silence dissenting voices,” .
The state-owned Ethiopian News Agency own report, however, paints a totally different picture by mentioning that “illegal protests” staged by “anti-peace forces” had been brought under control, while omitting the mention of any casualties.
The protests in Ethiopia had been the result of a call from a spontaneous social media movement which basically called for the release of other opposition demonstrators who had been arrested in protests earlier this year relating to the government’s plan to allocate farmland in the region, which surrounds the capital Addis Ababa, for development.
Governmental authorities had assented to scrapping the land scheme in January but opposition demonstrators have still not been released. So during the weekend, protesters had gathered in pocket groups, chanting anti-government slogans and waving dissident flags with some demanding the release of jailed opposition politicians.
The demonstrators also accused the government of rights abuses and marginalization of ethnic communities.
Athough, the Oromo people are Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group, making up more than 30 percent of the population of about 100 million and the Amhara people the second biggest group, opposition claims that the government and the military are dominated by the Tigrayan ethnic group, who make up only about 6 percent of the population.