UPDATE: Massive Protest at This Year’s Irreecha Festival But No Violence Reported

Thousands of Oromo people attend the "Irreecha" festival in Bishoftu on October 1, 2017. (Photo: Minasse Wondimu Hailu - Anadolu Agency)

Anadolu Agency

By Addis Getachew Tadesse

Updated: October 1st, 2017

BUSHOFTU, Ethiopia — An Ethiopian festival on Sunday turned into a massive anti-government protest for the second year in a row.

Over a million people gathered at Horra Harsede, a meeting place for Irreecha celebration in the central town of Bushoftu, 50 kilometers (31 miles) south of the capital, Addis Ababa.

Irreecha, a Thanksgiving holiday, is celebrated by Ethiopia’s largest ethnic Oromo group.

The celebration turned into a protest after the crowd took over the dais reserved for community elders and began chanting anti-government slogans.

Last year, more than 50 people were killed in a stampede caused by tear gas and bullets fired by security forces to disperse anti-government demonstrators during the celebration. The incident led to an imposition of martial law, which lasted for 10 months.

Last week, the government put a ban on the presence of army and armed forces at the site of the celebration.

“The agreement to keep the army and armed police at bay paid off this time around because it prevented confrontations and possible violence,” Lulu Alemu, Oromia Deputy Communications Office head, told Anadolu Agency.

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Ethiopia bans weapons at upcoming religious gathering

Associated Press

By Elias Meseret 

Updated: September 24th, 2017

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia — Ethiopia has banned weapons at the upcoming Irrecha religious festival in order to avoid the violence that killed several dozen people last year. The statement from the restive Oromia region comes ahead of the October 1 thanksgiving gathering.

“The security situation in the region has improved immensely compared to last year so armed personnel will not be allowed to be at the center of the festival,” Lomi Beo, head of the Oromia Culture and Tourism Office, told the Associated Press on Sunday. “Armed police will be confined to the outskirts of the festival site as per the request of the religious leaders. We don’t expect last year’s tragedy to happen again.”

Up to 1.5 million people are expected to participate in this year’s celebration in the town of Bishoftu, 40 kilometers (25 miles) south of the capital Addis Ababa, she said.

Last year security forces at the Irrecha gathering dispersed anti-government protesters with tear gas and gunfire, triggering a deadly stampede that officials said killed at least 50 people. Activists said the death toll was much higher.

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Human Rights Watch to Ethiopia: Exercise Restraint at Upcoming Irreecha Festival (HRW)


Several dozen people were killed and injured in Bishoftu last year after security forces fired at protesters at an Irrecha cultural and religious festival. (Photo: Reuters)

Human Rights Watch

September 20th, 2017

Ethiopian government and security officials should act with restraint and take concrete steps to prevent injuries and deaths at this year’s Irreecha festival on October 1, 2017, Human Rights Watch said in a report and video released today. Many people, likely hundreds, died in a stampede at last year’s festival, triggered by security forces’ use of teargas and obstruction of exits.

The 33-page report, “‘Fuel on the Fire’: Security Force Response to the 2016 Irreecha Cultural Festival,” details the Ethiopian government’s use of force in response to restive crowds at 2016’s Irreecha. The festival, attended by massive crowds, is the most important cultural festival to Ethiopia’s 40 million ethnic Oromos, who gather to celebrate the end of the rains and welcome the harvest. Human Rights Watch found evidence that security force personnel not only triggered the stampede that caused many deaths but subsequently shot and killed some members of the crowd.

“The security forces’ disastrous and disproportionate use of force should not be repeated this year,” said Felix Horne, senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. “With longstanding grievances still unanswered, this year’s Irreecha could be fraught with tensions. The government and the security forces should take all steps necessary before and during the festival to protect human life and de-escalate tensions.”

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