Police fire in air to keep crowds from Ethiopian singer's funeral

Police fire in air to keep crowds from Ethiopian singer's funeral

Two people were shot dead and seven others injured Thursday when soldiers opened fire on mourners seeking to attend the funeral of a popular Ethiopian singer, whose assassination sparked violence that has left more than 90 dead.

Angry protests broke out in Addis Ababa and the region of Oromia which surrounds it, the heartland of the Oromo people who have long complained of oppression at the hands of smaller ethnic groups in the diverse country of 100 million people.

On Tuesday, Oromo protesters, who claim they're being marginalized within the nation, took to the streets to demonstrate.

Officials have not provided casualty figures for the capital, though the United States embassy said in a security advisory late Wednesday that eight people had been killed there, including two Ethiopian Federal Police officers.

Oromia police chief Ararsa said "there was a grenade attack on the family home of Hachalu Hundessa in Ambo".

Thousands of people gathered to pay their respects at the funeral of slain Ethiopian activist and artist Hachalu Hundessa on Thursday.

The killing of Haacaaluu, 34, has tapped into grievances fuelled by decades of government repression and what the Oromo, Ethiopia's biggest ethnic group, describe as their historic exclusion from political power.

Hachalu Hundessa was considered "an icon of revolution - especially in the Oromo ethnic group", said DW's Colleta Wanjohi.

It is however the circumstances of Hachalu's death, which still remain unclear, that could cost Abiy dearly, Maru says.

"The protesters were saying that Jawar is not a thief, he just wants Hachalu's body to be buried with respect".

The funeral for Ethiopia singer Hachalu Hundessa
The funeral for Ethiopia singer Hachalu Hundessa

Federal police commissioner Endeshaw Tassew said there had been "deaths in several areas of Oromia and Addis Ababa".

Meanwhile, in the eastern town of Chiro, two people were shot dead during protests, a medic at the local hospital told the BBC.

Hachalu's music gave voice to Oromo feelings of marginalisation that were at the core of years of anti-govt protests that swept Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed to power in 2018.

Demonstrators brought down a statue of Ras Makonnen, the father of Emperor Haile Selassie, who ruled the region in the 19th century.

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. Abiy has promised to reform that system, but Oromos are protesting today because of perceived persecution.

This led to a demonstration in 2016 as pressure was mounted on the government.

Haacaaluu sang in the Oromo language of Ethiopia's largest ethnic group, but his lyrics - about yearning for freedom and exhorting Ethiopians to solve their own problems - touched a chord more broadly.

The ruling coalition eventually replaced then-Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn with Mr Abiy, who is Oromo himself.

Since assuming office, the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize victor has worked to promote political and economic reforms.

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