Ethiopia: Dozens killed after clashes in Bahirdar, in rural Gondar

Security forces killed several people in Bahir Dar city, northwestern Ethiopia, after clashing with protesters.

Ten thousands marched in the capital of Amhara region on Sunday morning.

The protest apparently went peacefully for an hour or so before clashing with security forces.

HornAffairs learned from multiple sources that the march has been mostly calm until it reached a section of the city called Abay Mado zefer, where the martyr statue of the regional ruling party ANDM and other governmental buildings are located.

A guard of ANDM disabled veteran building shot dead six protesters when some threw stone into the compound.

Chaos and mayhem ensued in the area and elsewhere in the city.

Several governmental buildings and business firms as well as a bank were ransacked.

Police sources also claimed that officers were attacked by some in the crowd.

The number of civilians killed ranges between 10 and 25. Locals also say one security officer was killed.

One source indicated many of the fatalities occurred in AbayMado sefer area. Up to four young men from one neighborhood were among the dead.

Tension rose in the region in the past three weeks since the federal Anti-Terrorism Taskforce’s operation to detain a group of people in Gondar city. One of the wanted men resisted arrest with the help of a group of armed men from the rural area.

Some of the detainees are publicly known as organizers of a movement for the reassignment of Wolqait district into Amhara region. Their supporters saw the arrest as a politically motivated crackdown, though the taskforce accused them of murder, robbery, and hostage taking.

The situation led to the death of seven officers and five civilians until the suspect surrendered after 24 hours standoff. The standoff was accompanied by protests and riots in the city and the nearby town Debark. Several business firms were ransacked and some Tigrayans were targeted by urban and countryside mobs.

Gondar city held a massive protest on Sunday, July 31, despite government warning against it. Though the turnout was estimated between thirty and fifty thousands, the rally was concluded without an incident amid heavy security presence.

Protest rallies are a rare occurrence in the country, as the authorities rarely allow for one and often result in fatal clashes with police.

Activists claimed the success of the protest was due to the deterrence effect of the armed men from countryside and the massive turnout as well as the tacit support of the regional administration and police.

Social media activists called for similar demonstrations to be held this weekend in Debre Tabor, South Gondar, and Bahir Dar cities.

Amhara region president Gedu Andargachew appeared on tv on Thursday to distance himself from the protests and denounce last Sunday’s demonstration for containing armed men and “anti-Constitution slogans”. He warned the government has “the capacity and readiness to enforce order” and that the regional forces are given instructions to take “all the necessary measures.”

Weekend protests and clashes

However, on Friday, Gondar was hit by a riot when a group of youth returning from a court hearing of one of the men detained three weeks ago. Several firms were attacked including selectively targeted Tigrayan properties.

The regional special force’s anti-riot unit forcefully dispersed the crowd, killing two and detaining dozens on Friday. The riot continued on Saturday leading to the death of at least six people and ransacking of several more business firms.

The government shut down social media and VoIP sites on Friday evening. The entire internet was shut down on Saturday evening.

Thousands turned for protests in Debre Tabor on Saturday around noon. A clash with security forces resulted in multiple fatalities. The details are not confirmed yet.

The situation was reportedly awful in smaller towns and semi-rural areas.

In North Gondar zone, in areas around Sanja and Masero towns of Tach Armacheho district and Chuahit and Koladeba towns of Dembia district, armed locals clashed with security forces. Similar clash was reported in Gaynet, South Gondar zone. One source claimed some member of the military and the federal police, along with higher number of civilians, were killed in those areas in the weekend.

The main road connecting Gondar city to Addis Ababa and Gondar city to the border town Metema remains closed since Friday.

“Semayawi’s demonstration”

In an apparent bid to capitalize on the development, earlier in the week, Semayawi party asked to hold a demonstration in Bahir Dar. The city administration curiously granted for the demonstration, though it was not clear if the authorities and the party were able to agree on the specifics.

On Saturday evening, however, Semayawi party officials went to the Voice of America (VOA) radio Amharic service to announce that the party cancelled the demonstration due to problems beyond their capacity. They added that they were not able to announce the cancellation on facebook due to social media blackout.

However, on Sunday evening, the state media referred to Bahir Dar’s turnout as “Semayawi party’s demonstration.” The state-media spent several minutes praising the civility of the residents, then claimed seven civilians were dead and five security officers were wounded without providing details.

The authorities are wary of more protests and clashes in Bahir Dar following funeral processions on Monday. The Federal media and Communication Office appear to be downplaying the incident in a bid to prevent further escalation.

Map – Incident locations in Amhara region, Ethiopia


Note: This news post was hastily written, then repeatedly augmented until Sunday evening, anticipating that internet access could be restored any minute. Thus, apologizes in case it lacks brevity.

View Comments (1)

  • I follow these developments with great interest and concern for the proud people of Ethiopia. I have lived and worked in Ethiopia from time to time. I have worked with good people in both Gondar and Bahir Dar in years gone by. It is my fervent hope that people with rightful concerns may peacefully petition their government without bloodshed. I am familiar with the passion that goes with debate on differing views in a complex society as I have listened and learned from all sides. May God's Blessings be with those who seek justice and peace for the greater good of all. Norris [YMCA CEO (retired) Indianapolis, IN USA]

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