Ethiopia’s Oromo protest, demand freedom for jailed leaders

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Oromos protest against the government and call for the release of prominent opposition figure Jawar Mohammed and others, during the annual Irreecha festival in the capital Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021. Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group, the Oromo, on Saturday celebrated the annual Thanksgiving festival of Irreecha, marking the end of winter where people thank God for the blessings of the past year and wish prosperity for the coming year. (AP Photo)

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AP) — Members of Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group, the Oromo, protested Saturday against the government and called for the release of jailed opposition figures as they gathered in the capital for their annual Thanksgiving festival of Irreecha.

Scores of people in the center of 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 chanted support for Oromo opposition politician Jawar Mohammed, who was arrested last year following an outbreak of deadly violence sparked 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 celebrations, which proceeded peacefully despite the protests and amid a heavy security presence. A police spokesman would not comment on any arrests of protesters.

The Oromos have historically expressed frustration at their perceived economic and political marginalisation. Abiy is the country’s first Oromo leader, but he faces growing criticism by some Oromo that he hasn’t done enough for them.

Parts of Oromia have experienced outbreaks of violence in recent years as regional security forces battle a secessionist insurgency there. They have been accused of committing human rights abuses 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 festival in 2016, several dozen worshippers were killed in a crush after police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at anti-government protesters.

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