The police on Thursday prevented, with batons and arrests, opponents of the regional authorities of Tigray from gathering in Mekele, capital of this region of northern Ethiopia emerging from a deadly conflict, according to a local journalist and an organizer.
Three Tigrayan parties united in an “Alliance for radical change” called for demonstrations on Thursday against in particular “the incompetence of the TPLF”, the all-powerful party in power in Tigray, and its “autocratic character”.
Several dozen police officers in riot gear "totally cordoned off" the location of the rally, the small Romanat Square in the center of Mekele, a local journalist reported to AFP.
“They hit the demonstrators who tried to gain access,” after having “arrested the organizers” who had arrived earlier, he said.
Large numbers of police were deployed in the city and "all the roads leading to Mekele were closed (...) In the center, businesses are also closed and the streets are empty".
Haile Kebede, a leader of Salsay Weyane Tigray (SaWeT), one of the organizing parties, told AFP that at least 26 activists had been incarcerated since the day before, including the presidents of SaWeT Hayalu Godefay and the Party for independence of Tigray (TIP ) Dejen Mezgebe.
"Security forces dispersed the demonstrators with (...) clubbing and arrests", including those of two senior officials of the third party, Baytona.
The TPLF municipality of Mekele had refused to authorize the demonstration, citing the lack of available police officers in the run-up to the Ethiopian New Year on September 12. But the organizers say that legally a prior declaration is sufficient.
"The government does not have to authorize or prohibit peaceful demonstrations", but the organizers "cannot decide on the time and place", justified on Wednesday evening the head of the Interim Regional Authority (IRA), Getachew Reda, leader of the TPLF.
"It is their right to organize a demonstration" and "we did not say that it should not take place, we said that the circumstances were not met for it to take place tomorrow" (Thursday), he added, citing "security fears" .
Hegemonic in Tigray, the TPLF (Tigray People's Liberation Front) led the ruling coalition in Ethiopia for 27 years with an iron fist, until the arrival of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in 2018 at the head of the federal government, against which he took up arms at the end of 2020.
The TPLF has again ruled this region of six million people (5% of the Ethiopian population) since a peace agreement in November 2022.