Addis Ababa (AFP) – A massive deployment of police in Ethiopia’s restive Oromo and Amhara regions prevented fresh anti-government protests over the weekend, an opposition leader said Monday.
“The situation is very tense,” said Beyene Petros, chairperson of MEDREK, an opposition coalition.
“The army, the federal police and plain clothes policemen are heavily deployed. They beat (the protesters). They chase them. They even go house to house threatening the parents.”
Small-scale protests were however reported over the weekend in at least three locations in Amhara region in the north and one in the central Oromo region. Last week, simultaneous protests were held for the first time in Oromo and Amhara regions, home to Ethiopia’s two biggest ethnic groups.
They were violently suppressed by security forces who opened fire on crowds in several places leaving at least a hundred dead, according to rights group Amnesty International.
Further rallies are expected in the coming days but the traditional, weak opposition parties claim to have little control over a protest movement they say is coordinated by youth activists using social media.
“People are coming out spontaneously. Political parties are bypassed,” said Petros. “We’re just watching and try to advise both sides so the damage will be minimised.”
Ethiopian opposition parties have been decimated by the arrests of leaders and members in recent years, often under a broadly-applied anti-terrorism law.
The ruling EPRDF coalition — in power for a quarter of a century — won every parliamentary seat in last year’s elections, triggering a wave of angry protests, according to Petros.
“This has enraged the population who has given up on EPRDF when it comes to bringing about a democratic system in this country,” he said.
“We are challenging the ruling party to open the political space.”