Fatalities reported after police fired tear gas at anti-government rally in Ethiopia

FILE PHOTO © Tiksa Negeri
Multiple deaths are reported in a stampede in Ethiopia, which happened after the police fired tear gas and warning shots at a crowd of anti-government protesters who gathered for a religious festival.

A reporter from AFP on the scene reported seeing up to 20 unmoving bodies in the aftermath of the stampede, some of which were clearly dead. The opposition put the number of fatalities at 50.

The altercation happened in the Oromiya region of the African nation, where clashes between the government and the opposition have become increasingly bloody over the past two years.

Several thousand people gathered on Sunday at the sacred Lake Harsadi near the town of Bishoftu, 40km (25 miles) south of the capital Addis Ababa, to take part in the Irreecha ceremony, Reuters reported. The festivity celebrates the end of the rainy season and is marked by Ethiopian farmers.

The gathering this year had anti-government sentiments, as local farmers accused the authorities of planning to seize their lands to expand the capital. Some protesters waved flags of the opposition Oromo Liberation Front, which the Ethiopian government considers terrorists.

A stand-off with the police degenerated into chaos after protesters pelted security troops, who responded with tear gas canisters and warning shots. The gas triggered panic in the crowd and led to a stampede.

Ethiopia is currently ruled by the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front, which came to power in 1991 by ousting strongman Mengistu Haile Mariam. The front currently stands accused of monopolizing power in the country. In the 2015 parliamentary election, the opposition lost the only seat it had in the national legislature.