Ethiopia protest death toll rises to 27

The authorities in Ethiopia say 27 people have been killed this week during outbreaks of violence in the Oromia Region.

This is close to double the number of deaths that had earlier been reported.

The unrest began on Wednesday, when protests broke out after the prominent activist and journalist Jawar Mohamed said the government was trying to remove his bodyguards.

The day before, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed had suggested Mr Jawar’s media outlet was inciting ethnic violence.

This week’s violence in Oromia is a deeply worrying reminder of just how volatile the country is.

With elections due next year, Mr Abiy faces a difficult job stopping ethnic violence from spiraling even further out of control.

It is hard to understand how the perceived ill treatment of a popular activist and journalist should lead to 27 people being killed. But Mr Jawar is extremely influential and his news site fuelled the protests that catapulted Mr Abiy into power last year.

If Mr Jawar were to renounce his US citizenship and run for office next year, this would be a huge challenge for the Nobel Prize winning prime minister who is also an ethnic Oromo.

Prominent Ethiopian activist Jawar Mohammed called for calm on Thursday amid protests that have killed 27 people and are challenging Nobel Prize-winning Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in his political heartland.

Addressing hundreds of supporters gathered around his house in Addis Ababa, Jawar said: “Open the blocked roads, clean the towns of barricades, treat those who have been injured during the protests and reconcile with those you have quarreled with.”

He struck a conciliatory tone toward the government, saying it was “not the time to kill each other”, but warned his supporters to stay alert. “Calm yourself,” he told the crowd at his house, “but sleep with one eye open”.

People have died in at least four cities since clashes began on Wednesday, officials and a witness said, after police fired gunshots and teargas to break up demonstrations in support of Jawar.

A media entrepreneur and activist from the Oromo ethnic group, the country’s largest, Jawar organised protests that propelled Abiy to power last year.

Abiy oversaw rapid political reforms after decades of repressive rule, winning international praise that culminated in last week’s award of the Nobel Peace Prize for ending a decades-long conflict with neighbouring Eritrea. -Reuters

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