Clashes between Ethiopian security forces and protesters demanding the release of an opposition politician and a media magnate have killed at least nine people in the Oromiya region surrounding the capital, health officials said on Thursday.
The unrest highlights growing divisions in Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s Oromo power base as powerful ethnic activists who were once allies increasingly challenge his government.
The protests started on Tuesday after a social media campaign for the release of prominent Oromo opposition leader Bekele Gerba and media mogul Jawar Mohammed, both arrested days after the killing an iconic Oromo singer Haacaaluu Hundeessaa.
Jawar was once a staunch supporter of Abiy now turned vocal critic, while Bekele is a leader of an opposition Oromo political party.
The singer’s death sparked protests in the capital Addis Ababa and spread to the surrounding Oromiya region, killing at least 178 people.
Harar region’s Hiwot Fana and Jegol hospitals admitted 32 people with gunshot wounds on Tuesday, most from Oromiya’s Aweday town, two doctors told Reuters on the condition of anonymity.
Six of the wounded died and one was in critical condition at Hiwot Fana Hospital, a doctor at the hospital said.
“They were shot in their head, chest and abdomen,” the doctor from Hiwot Fana Hospital said.
In Ciro, 320 km (200 miles) east of Addis Ababa, 30 people were taken to hospital, 25 of them with bullet wounds, a health official told Reuters. Two died on Tuesday and a third on Wednesday.
Abiy’s office referred Reuters to the Oromiya regional government for comment.
Getachew Balcha, the Oromiya regional government spokesman, did not return calls or text messages seeking comment.
The state-run Ethiopian Human Rights Commission called for an investigation.
“Authorities should ensure that the right to peaceful protest can be exercised, and law enforcement measures against anything beyond that do not exceed proportion,” spokesman Aaron Maasho said in a statement.
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