Three dead as unrest rumbles in Ethiopia’s southern Hawassa city

By Dawit Endeshaw, July 19, 2019

FILE PHOTO: Pedestrians walk on an empty street during a clash between the Sidama youth and a securities after they declared their own region in Hawassa, Ethiopia July 18, 2019. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri

ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – At least three people have died in Ethiopia’s southern city of Hawassa, hospital authorities said on Friday, amid a showdown between state security forces and some local activists who want to declare a new region for their Sidama ethnic group.The threat of large-scale violence in Hawassa city center on Thursday was largely averted after a Sidama opposition party agreed to delay declaring their own region and accept a government offer to hold a referendum in five months.

The threat to unilaterally declare a new region was a direct challenge to the authority of the Ethiopian federal government, which oversees nine regions in the nation of 105 million people.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, appointed by the ruling coalition last year, has been widely praised for political reforms in what was once one of the continent’s most repressive nations.

But many Ethiopian activists are now using their greater freedoms to demand more rights, sometimes for their own ethnic groups. At least eight other ethnic groups beside the Sidama also want their own regions. The tensions sometimes spark violence.

In Hawassa, not all Sidama people accepted the decision to delay the declaration. Some activists were still on the streets on Friday and most shops were still closed.

Local police told Fana Broadcasting that relative peace prevailed in Hawassa and nearby areas and they are working to restore peace in areas affected by the violence.

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