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Ethiopia says 669 killed in months of violent protests

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Months of violence that sparked Ethiopia’s current state of emergency left at least 669 people dead, the government-affiliated Ethiopian Human Rights Commission said on Tuesday.

The protests that began in November 2015 and spread throughout the country demanding wider political freedoms posed a challenge to one of Africa’s fastest-growing economies and a government accused by human rights groups of suppressing dissenting voices.

Independent investigations

The commission’s report to lawmakers largely blamed opposition groups for what it called illegal rallies in the restive Oromia and other regions. But it also said security forces were not properly prepared for a protest that turned into a deadly stampede in October and sparked the state of emergency declaration.

Lawmakers in March extended the six-month state of emergency for another four months.

Human rights groups have accused Ethiopia’s government of carrying out extrajudicial killings during the protests and have urged independent investigations.

The human rights commission’s report said security forces used “proportionate measures” in their response. But it also recommended that security forces at fault in a number of incidents across the country should be brought to justice.

Organising protests

Betsate Terefe, the executive director of the independent Human Rights Council, said sample studies conducted in 33 out of 350 localities in the Oromia region indicated that 103 extrajudicial killings were carried out during the months of protests.

“This is in just 33 localities in one region alone. I leave it for you to imagine what the total figure will be if we conducted the investigations in all the localities of all the affected the regions,” he said.

More than 25 000 people suspected of taking part in protests were detained under the state of emergency. Several thousand have been released. The government has indicated that a “few thousand” will be prosecuted for organizing protests.

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