Ethiopia: one dead as troops press into city amid unrest

At least one death and dozens injured as troops press into the city of Mekelle in Ethiopia’s Amhara region, where hundreds have been killed in unrest.

At least one person has been killed and dozens injured as soldiers press into the city of Mekelle, as violence continued to grip the country. A local official said forces were trying to “cleanse the city” of rioters and troublemakers.

The violence in the province has heightened fears that long-simmering ethnic tensions in Amhara could lead to a wider regional crisis.

The violence started in October 2017 when youths from several Amhara regions marched to Mekelle on behalf of dozens of protesters killed in September after they clashed with police.

Mekelle airport was closed, while Ethiopian Airlines grounded all flights.

In the meantime, Ethiopia’s leaders detained thousands of people accused of joining demonstrations and spreading misinformation online, leaving many accused of being “terrorists”.

Amnesty International said on Thursday that thousands of demonstrators had been detained and rights abuses committed after a violent crackdown on protests last year in Mekelle, which has been the focus of the unrest for months.

Idriss Da’as Gebremedhin, the president of Mekelle, told the state-run press agency Addis Standard that troops had been sent into Mekelle because “extremists and criminals and known criminals gathered to spread rumors on social media about repeated demonstrations”.

“Police arrested and detained some people but the government is now searching for those people,” he said.

Amnesty said at least 64 people had been killed, about 250 have been injured and more than 1,000 taken into custody. More than 2,000 people had been arrested, Amnesty said.

A spokeswoman said the wave of arrests appears to be part of a “police purge” in the wake of widespread anti-government demonstrations last year, in which rights groups accused the government of exploiting the situation to detain those it deems a threat.

“The government appears to be searching for those it suspects to be responsible for spreading news online and aiding and abetting ongoing demonstrations,” said Bazairt Ali Hussein, the deputy regional director of Amnesty International.

“These are clearly the result of a heavy-handed crackdown. Instead of resorting to using lethal force in the streets, Ethiopians must be respected, and their right to peaceful assembly protected.”

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