Three people were killed and others were critically injured when protests erupted in Ethiopia on Tuesday after a prominent singer from the country’s largest ethnic group was shot dead.
The unrest, which prompted government to switch off the internet in the capital, highlighted ethnic tensions that threaten to derail Ethiopia’s fraught democratic transition, overseen by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, last year’s Nobel Peace Prize laureate.
Hachalu Hundessa, famed for his political songs, came to be seen as a voice for the Oromo people during years of anti-government protest that swept Abiy to power in 2018.
He was shot on Monday night in Addis Ababa, the state-affiliated FANA Broadcasting Corporate reported.
On Tuesday morning, large crowds of protesters poured into the capital from the surrounding Oromia region, snarling roads with stones and blocking traffic.
There was also heavy violence in the town of Adama, with victims reporting they had been shot by security forces, said Dr. Desalegn Fekadu, a surgeon at the Adama Hospital.
“There are a lot of casualties, most of them are bullet injuries. Three patients died and there are still critical patients,” he said.
“There are also more than 10 patients with burn injuries. They said their houses were set on fire.”
Spokesmen for the federal police and the Oromia regional police said they did not have any immediate information on casualties.
The motive for the singer’s killing was not immediately clear but police have detained “some suspects,” Addis Ababa police commissioner Getu Argaw told FANA.
At the height of the anti-government protests, Hachalu gave a concert at Millennium Hall, a large conference centre in Addis Ababa, singing songs that spoke to concerns among the Oromo that they had been economically and politically marginalised.
“The Oromos did whatever we could, we have done our best, we can do no more than this. We served the small and the big people just so we can live together but we can’t tolerate it anymore,” were the lyrics of one song.
The US embassy said Tuesday that it was “monitoring reports of protest and unrest, including gunfire throughout Addis Ababa”.
It also said there was a protest outside the US embassy.
“Police have been deployed around the city in response to reports of violence. The situation is volatile at this time. Please remain in your homes until further notice.”
Streets were calm and some businesses were open in the city centre, but large groups of protesters gathered at various points on the outskirts of the capital.
One group shouted chants honouring Hachalu while brandishing Oromia flags.
“One day we will be free. Hachalu, the blood you shed won’t be in vain,” they chanted.
Abiy expressed “deep sorrow” in a statement posted to Twitter, describing Hachalu as a “shining young artist” and appealing for calm.
While Abiy is the first Oromo leader in the ethnically diverse country, many Oromo nationalists accuse him of not sufficiently advocating for their interests since he came to power.
On November last year 78 people were killed across the Oromia region in a chaotic wave of violence that began as protests against Abiy but devolved into clashes fuelled by ethnicity and religion.