BISHOFTU, Ethiopia: Fifty-two people died on Sunday at a religious festival in Ethiopia to celebrate the end of the rainy season after police fired tear gas at protesters triggering a stampede.
Violence broke out at the gathering in the town of Bishoftu near the capital Addis Ababa due to the actions of “irresponsible forces”, the regional government said in a statement, adding, “as a consequence, 52 people died in this crush.”
Opposition groups had said they believed more than 100 people had been killed in the chaos after thousands of people gathered at a sacred lake for the Irreecha (thanksgiving) ceremony, in which the Oromo community marks the end of the wet weather.
Ethiopia is facing its biggest anti-government unrest in a decade and some festival participants had crossed their wrists above their heads, a gesture that has become a symbol of protest by the Oromo community, according to an AFP photographer at the scene.
“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 published by state media earlier.
Merera Gudina, chairman of the opposition Oromo Federalist Congress, told AFP there had been many fatalities.
“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 one hundred,” said Gudina.