52 crushed to death in stampede at Ethiopia festival
At least 52 people were crushed to death in Ethiopia’s Oromia region on Sunday in a stampede after police fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse an anti-government protest that grew out of a massive religious festival, witnesses said.
The Oromia regional government confirmed the death toll at 52.
“I almost died in that place,” said one shaken protester, who gave his name only as Elias. Mud-covered and shoeless, he said he had been dragged out of a deep ditch that many people fell into as they tried to flee. The first to fall in had suffocated, he said.
“Many people have managed to get out alive, but I’m sure many more others were down there,” he said, adding, “It is really shocking.”
The stampede occurred in one of the East African country’s most politically-sensitive regions, Oromia, which has seen months of sometimes deadly demonstrations, demanding wider freedoms.
An estimated 2 million people were attending the annual Irrecha thanksgiving festival in the town of Bishoftu, southeast of the capital, Addis Ababa, when people began chanting slogans against the government, according to witnesses.
The chanting crowds pressed toward a stage where religious leaders were speaking, the witnesses said, and some threw rocks and plastic bottles.
Police responded with tear gas and rubber bullets, and people tried to flee. Some were crushed in nearby ditches, witnesses said.
Ethiopia’s government initially acknowledged that deaths had occurred, but it didn’t say how many were killed and injured. Through a spokesman, it blamed “people that prepared to cause trouble.”
Many were taken to hospitals, the spokesman’s office said.
Mulatu Gemechu with the opposition Oromo Federalist Congress said his sources at hospitals said at least 52 people were dead as of this evening, and he thought the figure would rise.
The protesters were peaceful and carry anything to harm police, Gemechu said.