At least 23 people were killed in a weekend of violence targeting minorities in Ethiopia’s ethnic Oromo heartland near the capital Addis Ababa, police said, a blow to new reformist Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s efforts at reconciliation.
The violence escalated on Saturday, the day of a rally marking the return to Ethiopia of leaders of the exiled Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), which had waged a four-decade insurgency for self-determination for Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group.
Abiy, himself the first Oromo leader in the ethnically diverse country’s modern history, has pursued a reconciliation strategy since taking power in April, steering the state away from a hardline security policy in place for decades.
In the latest unrest, local residents said shops were looted and people attacked by mobs of Oromo youth who stormed through streets targeting businesses and homes of ethnic minorities. The violence escalated on Saturday after two days of sporadic attacks in the Oromiya region’s Burayu district northwest of Addis Ababa.
“Mobs of ethnic Oromo youth then marched here in Ashwa Meda and attacked our homes and looted businesses chanting ‘leave our land’,” said Hassan Ibrahim, a trader in an ethnically diverse part of the district told Reuters.
“By night time, there were several dead bodies along roads.”
Another resident said some of the violence was carried out by people returning from Saturday’s rally in support of the returning OLF leaders. Reuters could not immediately confirm this. The OLF did not immediately comment on the unrest.
State-affiliated Fana Broadcasting said police had detained 300-400 people over the violence. The outlet had earlier on Monday said 200 people had been arrested.
Alemayehu Ejigu, head of Oromiya region’s police commission, denied accusations that police were slow to respond.
Those behind the violence “do not represent anyone – they had no reason other than theft,” he said. “Anyone has the constitutional right to reside in Oromiya or anywhere.”