Ethiopia unrest spreads beyond capital
By Tsegaye Tadesse and David Mageria
ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – Gunfire echoed sporadically around
Addis Ababa for a fourth day on Friday as reports emerged that
unrest had spread beyond the capital, a development likely to
deepen international concern for Ethiopia’s stability.
Information Minister Berhan Hailu told Reuters he had word
of “some kinds of unrest in some areas” of the north-central
Amhara region, but dismissed the disturbances as insignificant.
Residents contacted by telephone said students in Dessie
town, 400 km (250 miles) north of Addis Ababa had thrown stones
at police who dispersed them by firing in the air.
Amhara region is the base of the Amhara people who make up
about a fifth of the ethnically-diverse nation of 77 million,
sub-Saharan Africa’s second most populous after Nigeria.
Ethiopia’s worst violence in months has fueled fears about
the stability of the Horn of Africa’s main power, prompting the
European Union and African Union to urge restraint.
Ethiopia’s latest bout of unrest began in the capital, a
stronghold of opposition groups which accuse Prime Minister
Meles Zenawi of rigging his way back to power at polls in May.
“We are very scared because although it is a bit quiet now,
the fighting is likely to start again. The police are provoking
the public,” said opposition supporter Endale Alemaghue.
“They say they want to arrest our leaders, but they have
arrested all of them, so who do they want? They just want
trouble,” he told Reuters near the capital’s Mercato market
where violence first flared on Tuesday.
The disturbances have coincided with fresh tension with
neighboring Eritrea, its foe in a 1998-2000 border war.
U.N. peacekeepers patrolling the disputed Ethiopia-Eritrea
frontier warned that recent military moves by both countries
had produced a crisis requiring urgent attention.
They said on Thursday they were concerned the moves in the
past two weeks involving tanks, air defense missiles and troops
could lead to a repeat of the conflict.
Friday’s clashes broke out when a crowd of youths gathered
close to the AU headquarters tried to pull passengers from a
public transport bus.
Police dispersed them by firing in the air but sporadic
gunfire could still be heard later in the day.
Witnesses said protesters were targeting public transport
because they saw the state-subsidized service as a symbol of
authority. There was no immediate word on casualties.
“The atmosphere in Ethiopia is not good. I am worried about
myself and my family at home,” said a government worker who
gave his name as Tafara. “We think it could explode anytime.”
He had walked two km (about a mile) to his office as many
taxis and buses stayed off streets littered with rocks, broken
glass and the remnants of barricades erected by protesters.
Doctors at several hospitals put the death toll since the
start of the clashes at 42. Information Minister Berhan said on
Friday 24 people were killed in three days of unrest.
He said the capital was quiet, but noted trouble in other
“It is relatively calm and there are no reports of violence
in Addis Ababa, but there are some kinds of unrest in some
areas in Amhara region, but they are not significant,” Berhan
“Shops are closed and some schools are closed (in Amhara).”
SCORES OF ARRESTS
State-run Ethiopian News Agency reported late on Thursday
that seven prisoners were shot dead and 26 wounded trying to
escape from Kaliti prison near the capital.
Kaliti had previously housed people held for offences
related to politics, but there was no word on the whether the
incident was linked to the latest disturbances.
Residents and human rights groups say the security
crackdown has led to scores of arrests including leading
figures from the main opposition Coalition for Unity and
Meles has repeatedly accused the CUD of inciting the
bloodshed, warning he would not accept any threat to security.
The election was widely regarded as a test of Meles’s
commitment to bringing democracy to a country still struggling
to shake off the effects of centuries of feudalism followed by
nearly 20 years of Marxism under dictator Mengistu Haile