July 01/2020 – At least 50 people are reported to have been killed and several others injured in Oromia regional state following protests against the assassination of Oromo artist Haacaaluu Hundeessaa, Reuters reported. Causalities “included protesters and members of the security forces,” Reuters said quoting Oromia region police spokesman Getachew Balcha.
Protests have erupted in many parts of the regional state since the assassination. Several government buildings were also set on fire including the office of the Mayor of Adama, Oromia’s largest city, where 10 people are killed and 80 people are injured. “Most had been shot but some had been beaten or stabbed. Eight people died en route to the hospital or in it,” Reuters reported, quoting Dr Mekonnen Feyissa.
Addis Standard also confirmed that yesterday in Harar, the capital of Harari regional state and East Hararghe zone of Oromia, protesters have toppled down an equestrian statue of Ras Makonnen (1852 – 1906), who was the father of Emperor Haile Selassie I, and was the first governor of the city of Harar.
In Ambo, several people were injured when police opened fire at protesting youth and other residents of the city this morning after arguments over the burial place of the singer continue. Yesterday, the government airlifted Haccaaluu’s body to Ambo after protests led to tense confrontations between those who wanted the artist to be buried in Addis Abeba and authorities, who wanted him buried in Ambo.
The late Haacaaluu, 36, lived with his wife and three kids in Alem Gena, some 15 km west of Addis Abeba. He came to prominence for his 2015 hit song “Maalan Jirra” in which he passionately sang about the systematic erasure of the Oromo, their historical and cultural presences from the city of Addis Abeba. He has also been a fierce advocate of the 2014-2018 Oromo protest which was ignited after authorities unveiled a master plan for the expansion of Addis Abeba city, which the Oromo opposed as unhinged attempt to remove farmers from their lands. Now, activities say he should be accorded a proper burial in Addis Abeba city. However, speaking on behalf of his family, security forces and Oromia region authorities say the family wanted the burial to take place in Ambo, in west Oromia, where Haacaaluu was born, and that he will receive a “hero’s burial.”
The families, including his widow, have not spoken to the media as of yet.
This morning the confrontation over the singer’s burial place continued in Ambo, some 124 km west of Addis Abeba, when thousands of youth and other residents of the city protested in front of the city’s main police station demanding the return of the body to Addis Abeba for its funeral. The BBC Afaan Oromo reported that several people were wounded when the police opened fire to disperse the crowd.
Last night in a joint statement issued by the Federal and Oromia regional state police broadcast through state media, the Federal Police Commission Commissioner, Endeshaw Tasew, confirmed that 35 people, including opposition party Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC) members Jawar Mohammed and Bekele Gerba were in police custody as of yesterday June 30.
According to Commissioner Endeshaw, they were arrested after the killing of one member of Oromia police during a confrontation at Oromo Cultural Center in Addis Abeba. The Commissioner said that a confrontation sparked between security forces and “a group led by Jawar Mohammed” over the burial place of the late artist Haacaaluu.
Commissioner Endeshaw accused Jawar’s private security detail for the killing of the police officer and said that federal security forces have disarmed Jawar’s private security members and confiscated eight
Kalashnikov rifles, five pistols and nine communication radios. “no one is above the law”, he said and called for the public to cooperate with law enforcement agents.
Commissioner Endeshaw also said that there were three blasts in the city of Addis Abeba that left those “who planted the bob and innocents killed.” But he gave no further detail on the specifics. Earlier, the US Embassy in Addis Abeba has released a security alert and said the embassy was “monitoring reports of protests and unrest, including gunfire, throughout Addis Abeba.”
“Police have been deployed around the city in response to reports of violence but the situation is volatile at this time,” the Embassy said.
Ararsa Merdassa, Oromia Police Commission Commissioner, on his part accused “the group led by Jawar” of forcefully returning the body of Haacaaluu to Addis while it was en route to Ambo after it left St. Paul’s Hospital Millennium Medical College in Addis Abeba. The body was subsequently placed inside the Property Party office premises, Ararsa said. The confrontation ensued when the group forced its way to take the body, leading to the killing of the police officer.
At the moment there are no corroborating statements from others present at the event. The arrested include Hamza Borana, another member of OFC, and members of Oromia Media Network (OMN). According to OMN, which is only broadcasting from its Minnesota office via its Facebook, they were taken to undisclosed location. Addis Standard’s repeated attempt to find out where they were held at were to no avail as police commissioners and public relations officers refuse to speak to media.
Triple June events
Speaking separately through the national television, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said that three major incidents that happened in the last three consecutive Junes have threatened to derail his party’s journey to prosperity. He connected the June 24/2018 bomb blast at a rally organized to support him soon after he assumed the office; the June 22/2019 multiple assassinations of the army chief and a retired general in Addis Abeba, as well as the assassination of Amhara region senior officials including its president; and now the June 29/2020 assassination of Haacaaluu.
In a vague reference to an “organized attempt” to impede his reform, the Prime Minister blamed “internal and external enemies” bent on destroying Ethiopia’s journey. Without giving details, the Prime Minister referred to the presence of an organized campaign with a plan to start “a war in June in Addis Abeba and finish it in Addis Abeba.” He said this group considers “the issue of Oromia as concern” and further accused these forces of “dispatching death squads” which the government has been “thwarting.” The Prime Minister also alleges that these groups were not only targeting Haacaaluu but also other prominent Oromo personalities with the aim to “pit the Oromo people with other nations of Ethiopia, as well as instigate further violence to derail what we have planned for the country.”
However, in an apparent reference to link “these group” with the events that unfolded during the day, Prime Minister Abiy said that a “similar group” has attempted to disrupt the transfer of Haacaaluu’s body to Ambo and caused the hurt of “several people” in the process.
He did not specifically mention the extent of the casualties other than saying “several people.” He also said the government would step up its measures to ensure the prevalence of the rule of law throughout the country and called on the public to be on the side of the government. “Our enemies think they can easily disintegrate us; however we will use this incident to unify the country and to ensure our plans for peace and security of the country continue. The government will step up its works to realize the peace and stability and sovereignty of the country,” he said.
The government continued its blockade of internet in all of the country and phone networks in most parts, particularly Oromia, making the timely release of information impossible.
In a statement it released this morning, the CPJ condemned the “nationwide internet shutdown in Ethiopia and a police raid on the Oromia Media Network.” and asked for authorities to “immediately end” both. This came after the police have raided OMN studio in Addis Abeba yesterday and forced its reporters out. The station said some of its reporters remained detained.
“Ethiopian authorities’ persistence of old patterns of censorship in response to crises, when the public most needs access to timely news and information, is deeply disappointing,” said CPJ sub-Saharan Africa Representative Muthoki Mumo. “Authorities should immediately end the internet blackout, free the Oromia Media Network journalists detained in the course of their work, and guarantee that members of the press can report on this moment of protest without fear for their safety or of losing their liberty.” AS