Ethiopia’s Oromo protest, demands freedom for imprisoned leaders

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AP) – Members of Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group, the Oromo, protested the government on Saturday, calling for the release of imprisoned opposition figures gathered in the capital for their annual Thanksgiving festival of Irreecha.

Dozens of people in downtown Addis Ababa chanted slogans such as “Down, down Abiy!” a reference to Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, after performing ritual ceremonies to mark the end of the rainy season and the beginning of the harvest in Oromia state.

They also expressed support for Oromo opposition politician Jawar Mohammed, who was arrested last year after an outbreak of deadly violence caused by the death of a popular Oromo singer. He remains behind bars along with several others accused of terrorism. Activists claim their detention is politically motivated.

Hundreds of thousands of people attended Saturday’s celebration, which passed peacefully despite the protests and amid a heavy security presence. A police spokesman declined to comment on any arrests of protesters.

The Oromos have expressed frustration at their perceived economic and political marginalization in the past. Abiy is the country’s first Oromo leader, but he is increasingly criticized by an Oromo for not doing enough for them.

In recent years, parts of Oromia have seen outbreaks of violence as regional security forces fight a secessionist insurgency there. They have been accused of committing human rights violations against civilians, including summary executions.

Ahead of last year’s celebrations, hundreds of people were arrested on suspicion of plotting attacks and causing unrest. During the 2016 festival, several dozen worshipers were killed in an instant after police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at anti-government protesters.

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