ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – At least 23 people were killed during a violent weekend against minorities in the ethnic Oromo core area of Ethiopia near the capital Addis Ababa, according to the police, a blow to the efforts of the reformist prime minister Abiy Ahmed.
FILE PHOTO: The Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Abiy Ahmed, will address a news conference on 25 August 2018 in his office in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. REUTERS / Kumera Gemechu / File Photo
The violence escalated on Saturday, the day of a demonstration marking the return to Ethiopia from leaders of the exiled Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), who had been insurgent for four decades for self-determination for Ethiopia's largest ethnic group.
Abiy, himself the first Oromo leader in the modern history of the ethnically diverse country, has followed a reconciliation strategy since he conquered power in April and led the state away from a hardline security policy that has existed for decades.
In the last turmoil, local residents said that stores were being plundered and people were being attacked by gangs of Oromo youths who walked through streets aimed at businesses and homes of ethnic minorities. The violence escalated Saturday after two days of sporadic attacks in the Burayu district northwest of Addis Ababa in the Oromiya region.
"Mobs of ethnic Oromo youths marched here in Ashwa Meda and attacked our houses and plundered companies that recited & # 39; leave our country & # 39 ;, said Hassan Ibrahim, a trader in an ethnically diverse part of the district, told Reuters .
At night there were several corpses along the way. & # 39;
Another resident said that part of the violence was carried out by people returning from the Saturday rally to support the returning OLF leaders. Reuters could not confirm this immediately. The OLF did not immediately comment on the unrest.
State-affiliated Fana Broadcasting said the police had detained 300 to 400 people about the violence. The outlet had said earlier on Monday that 200 people had been arrested.
Alemayehu Ejigu, head of the police commission of the Oromiya region, denied accusations that the police reacted slowly.
Those behind the violence "do not represent anyone – they had no other reason than theft," he said. "Everyone has the constitutional right to stay in Oromiya or anywhere else."
The Oromo of Ethiopia, representing about a third of the population, has long complained about being marginalized for decades of authoritarian rule by governments led by politicians from other smaller ethnic groups. In recent years, the Oromo have been angry with what they see as an attack on their country.
Abiy & # 39; s predecessor Hailemariam Desalegn resigned in February in the aftermath of violent anti-government protests that had sullied the Oromo core area for two years.
Since Abiy took over power, he abolished a state of emergency, freed political prisoners and removed leaders of forbidden groups, including the OLF, from a blacklist, thereby paving the way for their return to the country.
But Abiy's reforms have yet to put an end to ethnic violence. Conflicts between Oromos and ethnic Gedeos in the south caused nearly a million people to flee their homes after seizing power.
Abys Chief of Staff Fitsum Arega said on Twitter that the prime minister "strongly condemned the murders and violent acts against innocent civilians around Ashwa Meda, Kataa and Fili Doro last night.
"These cowardly attacks are a major concern for our unity and solidarity of our people and will be received with appropriate response," he said.
Hundreds of people protested on Monday outside the parliament, the central square, the headquarters of state television and other places in the capital that demanded justice.
"Our homes were destroyed and our wives were raped because we just belonged to another ethnic group, but the government still has to respond well," said Atnafu Worku, one of the demonstrators.
Additional report Elias Biryabarema in Kampala; adaptation by George Obulutsa, Peter Graff, William Maclean