Ethiopia opposition: 80 killed in protests against land plan

BY ELIAS MESERET
DEC. 23, 2015 10:58 AM EST

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AP) — Ethiopian government forces have killed more than 80 people in the past four weeks in protests in the country’s Oromia region, an Ethiopian opposition party charged Wednesday.

The killings should be investigated, said the Ethiopian Federal Democratic Unity Forum, a coalition of four opposition parties, at a press conference.

“Trigger-happy government forces have killed more than 80 peaceful protesters in Ethiopia during the past four weeks,” Beyene Petros, president of the party told reporters, adding that hundreds of others were wounded and arrested. “We are still discovering disfigured bodies in various locations. The government has continued its brutal killings so we call on the international community and donors to step in and force the government to stop these inhumane actions.”

Party officials provided names of the alleged victims to The Associated Press.

The government has rejected, for the second time, the opposition party’s request to hold a public demonstration on Dec. 27 to protest the controversial Addis Ababa Master Plan, the opposition leader said.

The opposition party’s charge comes after a report last week by Human Rights Watch that said government forces killed at least 75 people protesting the government plan to incorporate some rural areas into the capital city, Addis Ababa.

Violent clashes between protesters and security forces have spread across Ethiopia’s Oromia Region, the biggest and most populous of Ethiopia’s federal states. Oromo students have led protests against the government’s plan which they charge will take lands from their region and displace thousands of farmers.

The government charges that the protesters are working with “terrorists.” It claims that only five protesters have been killed and that the development plan for Addis Ababa will not deprive farmers of land. Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn warned that the government “will take merciless legitimate action against any force bent on destabilizing the area,” speaking on Ethiopian state television.

But the protests have continued.

“This is the biggest demonstration in the region’s history. The immediate cause is the so-called Addis Ababa Master Plan that will rob Oromo farmers of their land and rights, the main reason is that people are fed up with cadres and politicians of the ruling party,” said Merara Gudina, a prominent Oromo opposition figure, told the Associated Press.

Many of the areas of Oromia are now under military control, said Gudina, vice-chairman of the Ethiopian Federal Democratic Unity Forum.

Amnesty International urged officials not to use draconian anti-terrorism measures to quell protests.

“The suggestion that these Oromo — protesting against a real threat to their livelihoods — are aligned to terrorists will have a chilling effect on freedom of expression for rights activists,” Muthoni Wanyeki, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for East Africa said.

The U.S. State Department has expressed concern over the clashes. “The United States is deeply concerned by the recent clashes in the Oromia region of Ethiopia that reportedly have resulted in the deaths of numerous protesters,” said spokesman Mark Toner in a statement. “We urge the government of Ethiopia to permit peaceful protest and commit to a constructive dialogue to address legitimate grievances. We also urge those protesting to refrain from violence and to be open to dialogue.”

The situation in and around the Woliso University campus seems calm but all the entrances to the Woliso town are guarded by soldiers, Seyoum Teshome, a professor at school, which was one of the protest sites, told the Associated Press by phone: “The situation seems calm at the moment but you could feel the tense atmosphere.”

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