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Killing of Ethiopian protest singer triggers unrest in leader's ethnic heartland

DTNext 2020-06-30 22:53:10

Footage posted on social media showed large crowds surrounding a car said to carry Haacaaluu’s body, slowly walking to his home town of Ambo, about 100 km west of Addis Ababa.

Representative Image Addis Ababa: At least eight people were killed and 80 injured on Tuesday as Ethiopian youths in the capital and other cities protested against the killing of a popular singer, unrest that jeopardises Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s power base in his ethnic heartland.

Abiy called for calm following the killing of Haacaaluu Hundeessaa, a musician whose political songs were the soundtrack of the protest movement that propelled Abiy to power two years ago. In a tweet, Abiy offered condolences and promised an investigation.

Dr Mekonnen Feyissa, medical director of the main hospital in the town of Adama, said the hospital had received around 80 wounded patients. Most had been shot but some had been hit with rocks or stabbed. Six died en route to the hospital and two died in intensive care.

The prime minister and the slain singer are both from the Oromo ethnic group, Ethiopia’s largest, which has long complained of being marginalised by national leaders from other communities.

Footage posted on social media showed large crowds surrounding a car said to carry Haacaaluu’s body, slowly walking to his home town of Ambo, about 100 km west of Addis Ababa.

Other pictures appeared to show demonstrators pulling down and beheading a statue of former emperor Haile Selassie’s father in the Oromo city of Harar. Reuters could not verify the authenticity of the pictures or video.

A TV station owned by a prominent Oromo opponent of Abiy, media tycoon Jawar Mohammed, said police had arrested Jawar after his bodyguards refused to disarm. Bekele Gerba, a leader of an opposition Oromo political party, was also arrested, the station said.

Federal forces had not arrested Jawar or Bekele, federal police spokesman Jeylan Abdi told Reuters. Spokesmen for other branches of the police were not reachable.

Jawar’s TV station was forced to broadcast by satellite from the U.S. state of Minnesota after police raided its headquarters and detained its staff, it said.

“They did not just kill Hachalu. They shot at the heart of the Oromo Nation, once again !!...You can kill us, all of us, you can never ever stop us!! NEVER !!” Jawar, whose supporters have been involved in violent clashes with the police in the past, posted on his Facebook page early on Tuesday, using an alternative spelling of the singer’s name.

Last week, Haacaaluu gave an interview to Jawar’s media network in which he criticised Ethiopia’s leadership.

Addis Ababa city police commissioner Getu Argaw told state media late on Monday that Haacaaluu had been shot dead at around 9:30 in the evening. Some suspects had been detained, he said, giving no further details. The killing appeared well-planned, police told state media on Tuesday.

The normally busy streets of Addis Ababa were eerily empty as protesters lit fires and chanted slogans.

The internet was shut down, a step the authorities have taken in the past at times of political unrest. Telephone service worked intermittently.

NetBlocks, an organization that tracks global internet shutdowns, said that there was a “near-total internet shutdown” from about 9:00am local time. The shutdown was the most severe in a year, NetBlocks said.


Haacaaluu, a former political prisoner, rose to prominence during anti-government protests which began in the Oromo heartland and led to Abiy taking power in 2018, ending decades of dominance of the ruling coalition by ethnic Tigray leaders.

“Today’s ruling party and the prime minister would not have come to power if it were not for the immense contribution that Haacaaluu made to the Oromo protest movement,” said Awol Allo, a lecturer at Keele University in England who has written about Haacaaluu’s music.

Abiy’s rule ushered in greater political and economic freedoms in what had long been one of the continent’s most repressive states, and the prime minister won the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize for ending conflict with neighbouring Eritrea.

But the rise in political activism has also led to an increase in unrest in a country with more than 80 ethnic groups. Abiy’s rule has been frequently challenged by local power brokers demanding more access to land and resources.

His emphasis on pan-Ethiopian politics sparked a backlash from some elements of his Oromo power base, spearheaded by Jawar. Clashes between police and Jawar’s supporters killed at least 78 people in October last year.

Elections due this year have been postponed until next year due to COVID-19 in a deal agreed with the major opposition parties.