Two killed as soldiers block mourners from Ethiopian singer’s funeral

Two people were shot dead and seven others injured Thursday when soldiers opened fire on mourners seeking to attend the funeral of a popular Ethiopian singer, whose assassination has sparked violence that has left more nearly 100 dead.

Hachalu Hundessa, a member of the Oromo ethnic group, Ethiopia’s largest, was shot dead by unknown attackers in the capital Addis Ababa on Monday night, fuelling ethnic tensions threatening the country’s democratic transition.

His music gave voice to Oromos’ widespread sense of economic and political marginalisation during years of anti-government protests that swept Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed to power in 2018.

The funeral, broadcast live on the Oromia Broadcasting Network, took place in Hachalu’s hometown Ambo, west of the capital.

Despite the shockwave provoked by his death, only a few hundred attended the short but emotional service in a football stadium.

A medical official in the town and an opposition member said that security forces had blocked roads leading to the funeral, and fired at crowds trying to make their way there.

“There has been an operation today related to the funeral. Nine people have been shot and two of them have died in our hospital,” said the official at the Ambo referral hospital on condition of anonymity.

Filenbar Uma, a member of the opposition Oromo Liberation Front in Ambo, described security forces shooting as “people were kept from going” to the funeral.

– ‘True freedom fighter’ –

Hachalu’s casket was driven into the stadium in Ambo in a black car, accompanied by a brass band and men on horseback. He was later buried at an Orthodox church in the town.

“He was a true freedom fighter,” Belay Aqenaw, the funeral’s organiser, said in a speech. “He was a singer who raised our spirits.”

Hachalu’s death sparked protests in the capital and across the Oromia region — the largest of the country’s ethnic federal states — which surrounds Addis Ababa.

Oromia regional police said Thursday that 87 people, including four of the region’s police officers, had been killed over the last three days, with 76 seriously injured.

In a separate statement, Addis Ababa’s police said 10 people had been killed in the capital over that period, including two officers, which raises the total official toll to 97.

Prime Minister Abiy, winner of last year’s Nobel Peace Prize, said in a statement Wednesday night that those behind Hachalu’s death sought to derail his reform agenda and “kill Ethiopia”.

“We have two choices as a people. To fall into the trap being set up by detractors or to deviate from their trap and stay on the course of reforms,” Abiy said.

“Choosing the first is to willingly aid them in our demise.”


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