52 dead in Ethiopia festival stampede

52 dead in Ethiopia festival stampede

BISHOFTU, Ethiopia
52 dead in Ethiopia festival stampede

REU Photo

Ethiopia began three days of mourning Oct. 3 for 52 people killed in a stampede after police clashed with protesters at a religious festival, the latest bloody episode in a wave of anger against the authoritarian government.

Members of the country’s largest ethnic group, the Oromo, had gathered Oct. 2 in the town of Bishoftu, some 50 kilometers (30 miles) from Addis Ababa for a religious festival to mark the end of the rainy season.

However political grievances took over, with Oromo protesters chanting anti-government slogans and crossing their wrists above their heads, a gesture that has become a symbol of protest against a government considered among the most repressive in Africa.

Chaos erupted after police charged stone-throwing protesters and fired tear gas, triggering a stampede, according to an AFP photographer on the scene.

The regional government said in a statement that 52 people had died after panic swept through the crowd of tens of thousands of people, with some festival-goers falling into a deep ravine.

Merera Gudina, chairman of the opposition Oromo Federalist Congress, told AFP he believed there had been many more fatalities than the number officially announced.

“Bodies are being collected by the government. But what I hear from people on the ground is that the number of dead is more than 100,” said Gudina.

On Oct. 3 the national flag was being flown at half-mast in government institutions and regular radio programs were replaced with music as the Horn of Africa nation mourned those killed.

The regional government blamed “irresponsible forces” for the disaster.

“The annual Irreecha festival has been disrupted due to a violence created by some groups... Loss of lives has occurred due to a stampede,” said a government statement.