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News: Protesters in Aweday beaten, shot at, as video exposes army crack down against civilians

Zecharias Zelalem

Addis Abeba, February 24/2020 -At least 30 people were injured on Thursday February 20/2020 when government security forces clamped down on a crowd of protesters in the town of Aweday, eleven kilometers west of Harar, in east Hararghe zone of Oromia regional state. The local police attempted to restore calm before the federal army intervened following clashes between pro and anti Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed demonstrators. Of those injured after having been shot at by security forces, two are in critical condition.

A footage of what appeared to be federal army regulars beating fleeing civilians has gone viral following the clashes, giving weight to claims that they may have served to exacerbate the clashes, Addis Standard has verified the authenticity of the video.

Tensions started to boil in the town after pro and anti-government demonstrators squared off in the city square. According to a police officer who spoke to the BBC Amharic, supporters of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed were confronted by opponents who chanted anti Abiy slogans. The crowd of anti Abiy demonstrators, including women and children, grew in number and police mobilized to disperse them. An unknown number of people were hurt in the fracas that involved baton wielding police and stone throwing youths.

One resident who spoke to Addis Standard over the phone on the condition of anonymity, said the town’s police force would have been sufficient to restore calm to the town.

“There was no need to deploy the armed forces,” he said. “They beat everyone they saw, even those who were passing by and had nothing to do with the protest. I saw at least thirty people being beaten.”

Screengrab from the video that circulated shows one soldier preparing to strike a fallen man. Another lies beaten on the ground to the left of the screen. Other soldiers look on

The widely viewed sixty-eight second video of the crack down shows that around a dozen soldiers and two others believed to be members of Oromia regional security forces viciously clubbing at least eight men with long wooden rods. Victims are hit in the head, abdomen and legs and struggle to hobble away from the soldiers and off into a nearby street.

Filmed near the town’s main market, all of the victims were attacked despite being unarmed and exhibiting no signs of aggression. Another man, unable to get away is seen lying motionless next to a parked three-wheel Bajaj and appears to be lying there motionless. But an official from the town’s clinic told Addis Standard there were no fatalities. However, he said that at least nine people who were hospitalized at the clinic had to be referred to a hospital in the city of Harar. Among them, two victims who suffered from gunshot wounds.

“The gunshot victims will live, their vital organs weren’t hit,” he said. When told that a resident had seen at least thirty people suffer from beatings by the military, the official said, “the number is probably higher than that.”

The police officer contacted by the BBC said he was unaware of any gunshot victims. “Police fired a lot of bullets into the air to frighten the crowds,” he said. “I haven’t heard anything about people being injured by them.”

Our repeated efforts to contact Major General Mohammed Tessema, the federal army’s indoctrination and public relations bureau head, were fruitless after all calls and text messages went unanswered.

Ambulance driver beaten

Fifty seconds into the video, an ambulance jeep is seen pulling into the area where the beatings were taking place. Despite one person lying motionless within the view of the driver, the ambulance is seen u-turning and driving off without the picking the person on the ground.

Addis Standard found out that he phone number visibly displayed on the side of the vehicle belongs to the town’s ambulance service. The operator who picked up said that the driver himself was in need of medical treatment. “You won’t see it in the video, but the driver was bleeding after having been hit in the head. His phone was broken too. He’s been given time off from work to recover.”

On Friday, calm had been restored in Aweday and the town was back in the control of local police.

In various parts of the country, demonstrations supporting PM Abiy Ahmed and the reform agenda being carried out under his auspices continued to take place.

However, a grenade thrown at a rally in Ambo, some 125 km west of Addis Abeba, in Oromia regional state, injured 29 on Sunday February 23. According to Ararssa Merdassa, Oromia Police Commission Commissioner, 28 of the injured have since been released from hospital. Six suspects were also detained by the police. AS

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