The Ethiopian government has called for three days of national mourning beginning Monday after several people died during a stampede at a festival in the Oromia region on Sunday.
The stampede was sparked by Ethiopia’s special forces who fired teargas and warning shots to disperse protesters at the annual Irreecha thanksgiving festival in the town of Bishoftu.
The government blamed “anti-peace forces” for the stampede which they say has claimed 52 lives.
The Oromia regional government said in a statement that the “innocent citizens lost their lives because of the violence instigated by anti-peace forces” while adding that “52 died in the stampede”.
The official death toll comes hours after the first official confirmation of the incident in which the government made no mention of the number but blamed rioters for the stampede.
Several dead, many injured after crackdown on Oromia protest in Ethiopia | Africanews https://t.co/W3jBDSOzOV— africanews (@africanews) October 3, 2016
“As a result of the chaos, lives were lost and several of the injured were taken to hospital … Those responsible will face justice,” the government communications office stated.
The chairperson of the opposition Oromo Federalist Congress, Merera Gudina, told Reuters that at least 50 people were killed during the stampede while Jawar Mohammed who is the Executive Director of the Oromia Media Network based in the United States reported about 300 dead.
Among the thousands of festival participants, a number of them marched chanting anti-government slogans and their arms crossed above their heads while Ethiopian Air Force helicopters hovered above the crowd.
AFP reports that its official on the ground saw protesters throw stones and bottles at security forces, who initially fought back with sticks, and then with tear gas causing panic with at least 50 people falling into a ditch while others fell into the Lake Harsadi.
This was followed by gunfire which could not be ascertained if it was from live bullets, AFP added.
Local media reported that the shooting and subsequent stampede occured immediately after ruling party officials were booed off when they wanted to address the crowds at the festival.
Witnesses told Africanews that a helicopter dropped teargas on the people while the police on the ground fired the shots.
Graphic images posted on social media show people lying on the ground dead while others were being helped by the security forces.
The Oromia region lies south of the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa and is the center of the Oromia protests last year which Human Rights Watch reported that over 400 protesters were killed.