52 People Died During Stampede at Irrecha Celebration, Government says
Awramba Times (Bishoftu, Ethiopia) – The Oromia regional state said 52 people were died in a stampede today while police fired teargas and warning shots to disperse protestors at the annual Irrecha celebration in Bishoftu town, about 40km southeast of the capital, Addis Ababa.
According to eye witnesses, crowds chanted “we need freedom” and “we need justice”, preventing community elders, deemed close to the government, from delivering speeches at the festival. Some protesters waved the red, green and yellow flag of the Oromo Liberation Front, a rebel group branded a terrorist organisation by the government. Office of the government communication in a statement said many people were taken to hospitals.
Eye witnesses said to AP correspondent that police dispersed protesters chanting anti-government slogans as they pushed toward a stage where religious leaders were speaking. Some threw rocks and plastic bottles. As festival goers fled, some were crushed in nearby ditches.
The correspondent confirmed that he saw people holding up crossed wrists in a popular gesture of anti-government protest and police firing tear gas. He also said he saw several injured people.
Merera Gudina (PhD), opposition figure and chairman of the Oromo Federalist Congress, told Reuters at least 50 people were killed, saying his group had been talking to families of the victims.
Merera said the government tried to use the event to show Oromiya was calm. “But residents still protested,” he added.
Irreecha, a thanksgiving day, which attracts millions of Oromos from all parts of Oromia and abroad, is the most colorful celebration the Oromo people mark for the glory of their creator. As the main part of the Gadaa system, Irreecha is also considered as a symbol of the Oromo people’s identity from time immemorial.
Works has been done by the Ethiopian government to inscribe this spectacular festival of Irrecha on UNESCO’s representative list of intangible cultural heritage of humanity.