Huge protests sparked by the death of popular Ethiopian singer Hachalu Hundessa, have resulted in 81 deaths in the Oromia region of the country, a police chief said.
Thousands of fans had gathered to mourn Hundessa, an Ethnic Oromo, Ethiopia’s biggest ethnic group, who was shot dead on Monday night while driving.
His songs focused on the rights of the country’s Oromo and became anthems in a wave of protests that led to the downfall of the previous prime minister in 2018.
The motive for Hachalu’s killing remains unclear, but police say they have arrested two people in connection with the killing.
The protests have resulted in the arrest of 35 people, including prominent politician Jawar Mohammed, according to police.
“So far 81 people have been killed, including three Oromia special police force members,” Ararsa Merdasa, the Oromia police chief, said in a televised press briefing.
Many people were injured in Tuesday’s protests and there was “significant destruction to property,” Getachew Balcha, the spokesperson for the Oromia regional government, told the BBC.
The authorities shut down the internet on Tuesday in parts of the country as the protests against his killing spread across Oromia region – there are reports of more unrest on Wednesday.
The military was deployed in the capital, Addis Ababa, while armed gangs roamed the streets, reports the Reuters news agency.
Trouble started when Hachalu’s body was being transported to his native town of Ambo, west of Addis Ababa for burial, but Mr. Jawar Mohammed and his supporters intercepted it and tried to return it to the capital.
Federal Police commissioner, Endeshaw Tassew, said on Tuesday that a stand-off ensued.
“There was a disturbance between federal security forces and others, and in the process one member of the Oromia special police force was killed,” Mr. Endeshaw said.
“Thirty-five people including Jawar Mohammed have been put under arrest. The security forces have taken eight Kalashnikovs, five pistols and nine radio transmitters from Jawar Mohammed’s bodyguards,” he added.
Tiruneh Gemta, an official from Mr. Jawar’s Oromo Federalist Congress party, told the BBC Afaan Oromoo service they were “concerned” about his arrest and that they hadn’t visited “those who’ve been arrested due to the security situation”.
Mr. Jawar, a media mogul, has led calls for more rights for the Oromo, Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group, who have been politically marginalised by previous governments.
He supported reformist Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, himself an Oromo, but has since become an ardent critic.
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed expressed his condolences saying in a tweet that Ethiopia “lost a precious life today” and describing the singer as “marvellous”.
The musician’s death and the protests come as political tensions rise following the indefinite postponement of elections due in August, on account of the coronavirus pandemic.
They would have been the first electoral test for Mr. Abiy after he came to power in April 2018. (Source: BBC)