Anti-government chanting in Ethiopia on anniversary of festival deaths

Ethiopia festival anniversaryHundreds of people chanting anti-government slogans marched in the central Ethiopian town of Bishoftu at a religious festival where a stampede triggered by a police move to quell protests killed dozens of people last year.

The incident during the annual Irreecha festival in Bishoftu, south of Addis Ababa, marked the bloodiest period in unrest that plagued the Horn of Africa country for months in 2015 and 2016.

Authorities at the time said 55 died in the stampede, with dissidents putting the toll at around 150.

On Sunday, thousands of people attended the thanksgiving event marking the end of the rainy season, the majority clad in red, black and white attire – the Oromiya region’s flag.

The lakeside event ended without any violence, anti-government slogans rang out soon after the ceremony began.

Down, down EPRDF!” dissidents chanted in small groups as they marched towards the town’s centre, referring to Ethiopia’s ruling party.

Last week, the regional government announced the police presence would be minimal and those attending would not be armed to prevent tensions.

Violence in 2015 and 2016 forced government to impose a nine-month state of emergency lifted in August.

The unrest was provoked by a development scheme for Addis Ababa and turned into broader anti-government demonstrations over politics and human rights abuses.

It included attacks on businesses, many foreign-owned, including farms growing flowers for export.

In April, a government-sanctioned investigation said 669 people were killed during one period in the violence and more than 29,000 people arrested.

Violence in Oromiya, the largest and most populous region surrounding Addis Ababa, and to a lesser extent in Amhara province north of the capital, cast a shadow over Ethiopia, where a rapid industrialisation drive has created one of Africa’s fastest growing economies.