At least 81 people have been killed in Ethiopia after the death of a popular singer sparked huge protests in the Oromia region, a police chief said.
Thousands of fans had gathered to mourn Hachalu Hundessa, who was shot dead on Monday night while driving. Police say 35 people, including prominent politician Jawar Mohammed, have been arrested.
The motive for Hachalu’s killing remains unclear. But police say they have arrested two people in connection with the killing. Hachalu, 34, recently said that he had received death threats.
He will be buried on Thursday. His songs focused on the rights of the country’s Oromo ethnic group and became anthems in a wave of protests that led to the downfall of the previous prime minister in 2018.
“So far 81 people have been killed, including three Oromia special police force members,” Ararsa Merdasa, the Oromia police chief, said in a televised press briefing.
Many people were injured in Tuesday’s protests and there was “significant destruction to property,” Getachew Balcha, the spokesperson for the Oromia regional government, told the BBC.
The authorities shut down the internet on Tuesday in parts of the country as the protests against his killing spread across Oromia region – there are reports of more unrest on Wednesday. The military was deployed in the capital, Addis Ababa, while armed gangs roamed the streets, reports the Reuters news agency.
Why was Jawar arrested?
Trouble started when Hachalu’s body was being transported to his native town of Ambo, west of Addis Ababa for burial, but Mr Jawar and his supporters intercepted it and tried to return it to the capital.
Federal Police commissioner, Endeshaw Tassew, said on Tuesday that a stand-off ensued. “There was a disturbance between federal security forces and others, and in the process, one member of the Oromia special police force was killed,” Mr Endeshaw said. “Thirty-five people including Jawar Mohammed have been put under arrest. The security forces have taken eight Kalashnikovs, five pistols, and nine radio transmitters from Jawar Mohammed’s bodyguards,” he added.
Tiruneh Gemta, an official from Mr Jawar’s Oromo Federalist Congress party, told the BBC Afaan Oromoo service they were “concerned” about his arrest and that they hadn’t visited “those who’ve been arrested due to the security situation”.
Mr Jawar, a media mogul, has led calls for more rights for the Oromo, Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group, who have been politically marginalized by previous governments. He supported reformist Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, himself an Oromo, but has since become an ardent critic.