At least 20 people, including police officers, have been reportedly killed in northern Ethiopia following days of ethnic Amhara protests, according to various reports and eye witness.
Demonstrations on Thursday and similar protests in recent days in the northern city of Gondar were against what protesters see as the erosion of their “ethnic identities” in the area.
The violence is believed to have started after Tigray regional police, disguised as federal police apprehended four members of the Welkait – Tegede Amhara committee and were heading to arrest the fifth committee member and leader, Col. Demeke Zewdu, in the wee hours of Tuesday morning.
Shots were fired after the Colonel refused to surrender to the forces. The Colonel returned the fire killing two of the Tigray police officers.
Having heard the Colonel was besieged by Tigray forces, hundreds of armed local Amhara peasants from around Gondar flocked to defended Col. Demeke, resulting a dangerous standoff. In the ensuing fire exchange, dozens of civilians and armed locals have been killed. The incident rages protesters to start burning out state vehicles and a bus that belongs to the ruling Tigray people liberation front (TPLF) affiliated Selam Bus Company.
“This seems to be another ethnically-based conflict,” said Al Jazeera’s Charles Stratford, reporting from Addis Ababa.
Images posted online show burned-out vehicles and armed men firing their guns in the air as hundreds of other people cheer them on. Unlike the stone throwing protests that took place in the Oromia region few months ago and resulted to the death of over 400 protesters, the Amhara Protests in Gondar involves a well armed protesters.
"አይ ሀገሬ ጎንደር አይ ህዝቤ አምሀራ
ለጠገበው ጥይት ለራበው እንጀራ"#AmharaProtests✊ https://t.co/ZpTnmF8h77
— Menelik III (@GurageFirst) July 15, 2016
The Amharas are the second largest ethnic group in the country and historically the Welkait and Tegede people are ethnic Amharas and their lands were administered under the Gondar Amhara province.
However, following the coming to power of a TPLF-led EPRDF in 1991, Welkait, Tegede and some other Amhara lands were given away to Tigray region and the people of these lands fall effectively under the Tigray regional government despite the fact that the then introduced ethnic federal system allows them to remain Amhara under the Gondar administration given their native Amhara linguistic.
The question of reclaiming their Amhara identity, therefore, started since.
Ethiopian political analyst Teshome Borga said, the ethnic based federal system of government in Ethiopia is failing and unless some corrective measures taken, it might lead the country into further chaos and the eventual destabilization of the country.
“Every big and small tribe and sub-tribe now wanted to rule their own piece of land even though their boundaries has never been well defined before,” warned Mr. Borga.
The latest violence has prompted the US embassy in Addis Ababa to issue a temporary advisory warning against all travels to the city of Gondar and in areas where violent demonstrations have been reported.
“The Embassy recommends all US citizens traveling to or resident in the Gondar area evaluate their personal level of safety and to avoid demonstrations or large gatherings,” the advisory issued on Wednesday reads.
#Ethiopia https://t.co/92v3V2mZ2Y Situation in #Gondar remains tense; reports of gunfire; check situation locally before considering travel.
— FCDO Travel Advice (@FCDOtravelGovUK) July 13, 2016
The Israeli government also reported that thousands of Ethiopian Jews are trapped in Gondar, but are safe inside a “secure and guarded building”, according to Jerusalem Post.
VOA Amharic Radio: ጎንደር ዛሬም በውጥረት ውስጥ እንዳለች ነዋሪዎች ይናገራሉ
#AmharaProtests in #Ethiopia explained. #Welkait is not Tigre and don't belong to Tigray. They are proud Amhara. pic.twitter.com/kbXmRNxpgU
— ⓉⓃ (@tesfanews) July 14, 2016