A protest in Ethiopia turned into a stampede that left at least 100 people drowned or crushed to death as police dispersed a crowd at an annual cultural festival of the Oromo people, the nation’s largest ethnic group, a doctor from Bishoftu Hospital said.
Oromia Region security forces used tear gas and rubber bullets to stop protesters who were chanting anti-government slogans and throwing projectiles at a stage where leaders were trying to speak. Most of the deaths occurred as people fell into ditches while fleeing armored vehicles and special forces on pick-up trucks that were sent to disperse the crowd.
“Around 100 people died and some people are saying there are also a lot of people buried under water,” the doctor, Fedesa Mengesha, said on Sunday from Bishoftu. “We are expecting more.” Of about 50 bodies he examined, none died from bullets, he said.
Ethiopian security forces have killed about 600 Oromo since November during protests against the government, according to the Association for Human Rights in Ethiopia. The Oromo protesters, who say their ethnicity is marginalized and oppressed, were joined in July by demonstrators from Ethiopia’s second-most populous region, Amhara.
The Irreecha festival is a celebration of the Oromo’s traditional beliefs and culture that is held at Bishoftu’s sacred Lake Hora, where people drowned on Sunday. The government confirmed 52 deaths so far, spokesman Getachew Reda said by phone from Addis Ababa, the capital, on Sunday.