Ethiopian Prime Minister, Desalegn Hailemariam has for the first time admitted that the number of deaths from anti-government protests in the country could be more than 500.
He however reiterated the commitment of the government to probe any excesses on the part of security forces whiles dealing with protesters.
‘‘This government will do everything in its disposal to investigate any unproportional and excessive use of force by our security operators.”
Media in the country had the rare opportunity of asking him about the casualty figures in protests in the Amhara and Oromia regions during a joint press conference in Addis Ababa during the visit of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
The prime minister told the media that there were at least 170 deaths in the Oromo region and more than 120 in Amhara but admitted that “when you add it up it could be more than 500”.
According to him, the death toll was not the issue: ‘‘The point is not the number, the point is [that] we should engage with extremist violent groups in a proportionate manner,’‘ he said in justification of the security crackdown.
The African economic rising star has over the last 11 months experienced anti-government protest, that has often turned bloody as protesters clashed with security forces.
Rights groups put the figure of killed protesters at over 500. The latest clash happened two Sundays ago (October 2) when police reportedly fired tear gas to disperse protesters at a Thanksgiving festival – the Irreecha – in the Oromia region.