Protests in Ethiopia rekindle at Irreecha festival

Protests in Ethiopia rekindle at Irreecha festival
(businesslive) —  Bishoftu, Ethiopia — An Ethiopian religious festival turned into rare open defiance to the government on Sunday, a year after a stampede started by police killed dozens at the annual gathering.

The Irreecha festival is held by the Oromos, Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group, which in 2015 began months of antigovernment protests over claims of marginalisation and what members called unfair land seizures.

Parliament declared a nationwide state of emergency aimed at quelling the unrest shortly after the bloodshed at October 2016’s Irreecha, but the protests at 2017’s gathering show that dissatisfaction still runs deep.

“The government is trying to control us and deny our rights, lives and security,” said Sabana Bone, who was among the tens of thousands in a resort town of Bishoftu, about 60km southeast of the capital Addis Ababa.

“We are remembering what happened last year [2016] and it makes us angry. We need freedom,” Bone said.

The Oromo protests were triggered by a government plan to expand Addis Ababa’s boundaries, which community leaders denounced as an attempt to steal their land.