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Ethiopia: Over 80 dead in protests over killing of singer

July 1, 2020

Following the killing of a prominent musician whose songs were used to advocate for the Oromo ethnic group, over 80 people were killed in clashes with police. A prominent opposition politician was also arrested.

Musician Hachalu Hundessa
Image: Reuters/T. Negeri

The military was deployed in the Ethiopian capital on Wednesday after over 80 people were killed in unrest following the assassination of a prominent political singer from the country’s largest ethnic group. 

The Oromia Region had "recorded around 81 deaths" on Tuesday, while the opposition Oromo Federalist Congress said nine more people had perished in violent unrest Wednesday in the town of Ambo.

Musician Hachalu Hundessa was shot dead on Monday night in what protesters described as a targeted killing. Protests initially broke out the following morning in the capital Addis Ababa and across the surrounding Oromia region.

Businesses were set alight and protesters and police appeared to have clashed. 

"We were not prepared for this," a police spokesman said to Reuters.

The dead include protesters and members of the security forces. Protesters said the killing of Hachalu had a "political motive" and have blamed authorities.

Ethiopia's prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, expressed his condolences and tweeted that an investigation was currently under way. 

Read more: Hachalu Hundessa: Killing of Ethiopian singer sparks unrest

Deadly dispute over burial 

The worst violence on Wednesday occurred in Hachalu’s hometown of Ambo, west of Addis Ababa, over a dispute about where the singer’s body would be laid to rest.  

The Oromo people consider Addis Ababa the center of their territory, from where they feel they have been displaced.  

Ambo spokesman Milkessa Beyene said that Hachalu's body had arrived in his hometown for burial on Thursday, but "a group of youths who wanted the funeral to happen in Addis Ababa clashed with security forces, causing unrest" and resulting in fatalities.  

Authorities also reported a grenade attack on Hachalu’s family home in Ambo. The attack killed his uncle and injured two police officers, police chief Ararsa said.  

Opposition figure arrested

Leading opposition politician Jawar Mohammed was also arrested amid the protests, in a move that may inflame protests further.

Mohammed was detained following an altercation with police over the body of Hundessa. He is one of at least 35 who were arrested for attempting to intercept the body and return it to the capital, police said.

Why has Hachalu's death caused protests?

Hachalu's music made him an advocate of the Oromo ethnic group —  Ethiopia's largest — who say they are excluded from power and neglected by the government in the country, which is made up of multiple ethnicities.

According to DW correspondent Colleta Wanjohi, Hundessa was considered "an icon of revolution — especially in the Oromo ethnic group."

Prime Minister and Nobel Peace Prize winner Abiy Ahmed, who is Oromo, was elected in 2018 with a mandate that he would work to dispel ethnic tensions in the country. However, he has seen an increase in violence under his tenure.

Human Rights Watch says that Abiy's reforms that saw the loosening of government security organs have led to a collapse of law and order in certain areas.

ed/stb (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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