Five die as Ethiopian forces fire on opposition supporters

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Demonstrators protesting the political situation in Ethiopia.
Demonstrators protesting the political situation in Ethiopia.
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  • The violent protests broke out on Monday in many Ethiopian cities and towns.
  • In one city, 24 people were treated for gunshot wounds.
  • Fatalities have been reported in 13 different locations in the Oromia region.

At least five people died when Ethiopian forces fired on demonstrators protesting the detention of opposition leaders, officials said Thursday, further undermining hopes for a democratic transition under Prime Minister and Nobel peace laureate Abiy Ahmed.

Rights groups said the toll was significantly higher in the protests, which broke out Monday in many cities and towns over the detention of politicians rounded up during political and ethnic violence in June and July.

In the eastern city of Harar, 24 people were treated for bullet wounds at the Hiwot Fana Referral Hospital and three of them died, according to a doctor who spoke to AFP on condition of anonymity.

"On Monday there were 14 people with bullet wounds, two of them fatalities, who came to our hospital. And on Tuesday there were 10 people with bullet wounds, one of them fatal," the doctor said.

In Dire Dawa, another eastern city, two people were killed and four injured, according to a statement from the city administration which blamed the unrest on "entities with malign intentions who hide inside society".

Deaths have also been reported in 13 different locations in the Oromia region which surrounds the capital Addis Ababa, according to a statement Thursday from the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, a government body.

The commission "is deeply alarmed by the loss of life amid protests in Oromia, and calls on authorities to prevent security forces from using excessive force," said the statement, which did not include a death toll.

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Fisseha Tekle, a researcher for Amnesty International, told AFP Thursday that at least 20 people had been killed - a figure that could not be independently verified.

"The government should investigate those members of the security forces who are suspected of committing this violence," he said.

Some of the protests were linked to reports that Jawar Mohammed, a high-profile Abiy critic who has been locked up for more than six weeks, was not receiving proper medical care, Fisseha said.

Jawar is one of many prominent opposition politicians arrested during violence that erupted after the shooting death in June of Hachalu Hundessa, a popular singer from the Oromo ethnic group, leaving more than 200 dead.

Jawar appeared in court Monday complaining of "vomiting" and "shivering" but has demanded to be treated by his own doctors because he does not trust the government's, his lawyer Tuli Bayyisa told AFP.

Though Abiy is Ethiopia's first Oromo leader, he faces intense criticism from Oromo nationalists like Jawar who accuse him of being a poor advocate for their interests.

Oromia police and government officials did not respond to requests for comment Thursday.

The office of Ethiopia's attorney general on Tuesday defended the government's response to recent unrest, saying in a statement that investigations would reflect a "commitment to human rights".

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