Ethiopian officials have called for a three-day national mourning period, as the death toll – and the tension – continues to rise following weekend violence at an annual Irreecha festival in Bishoftu.
The Oromo thanksgiving festival, attended by up to 2 million people in the town near Addis Ababa, became a chaotic scene when police attempted to disperse a crowd calling for justice and freedom, as they engaged in chanting and protests against the Ethiopian government and its ruling TPLF party.
Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn appeared on state-run EBC television Monday to express condolences to the Bishoftu victims and their families, and announce the mourning observation.
In response to Desalegn, Oromo activists have called for five days of rage, al Jazeera reports, to protest the Irreecha deaths as clashes continued across central Ethiopia.
Ethiopian officials place the official death toll at 52, and explain the incident as a stampede caused by festival-goers as they attempted to flee protests shut down by tear gas and police warning shots.
The official narrative is contradicted, however, by independent reports that hundreds have died at Bishoftu and its aftermath. As tributes to the teachers, engineers and other Oromo who died continued, so did the insistence of political opposition leaders who dismissed the stampede account and claimed festival-goers died at the hands of security forces responsible for a massacre.
Global concern for the 30 million Oromo living in Ethiopia has increased, following a year in which at least 500 hundred Ethiopians died in violent clashes with security forces, according to Human Rights Watch. Oromo and their supporters say the numbers are much higher as their people – long aggrieved by economic and political disparities rooted in ethnicity – challenged Ethiopian officials over their land.
In Addis Ababa Monday, the European Union Delegation, as well as the embassies of Sweden, Canada, the U.S. and U.K extended their condolences to Ethiopians over the Irreecha tragedy.
Image: Embassy of Ethiopia/EBC