Addis Ababa (AFP) – At least nine people have been killed and 70 injured at student protests in southern Ethiopia this week, including in a grenade attack, the government said in a statement late Thursday.
The government blamed “anti-peace” forces for inciting violence, while opposition groups accused the police of brutality.
According to a statement on the state news agency, mass demonstrations caused “loss of lives and property” in several university towns in Oromia, Ethiopia’s largest region.
The riots, which began Wednesday after “students confused by deliberately misleading rumours and gossips created havoc”, had been brought under control, it added.
Five people were killed in Ambo, about 125 kilometres (80) west of Addis Ababa, and another three people killed near Bidire, about 415 kilometres (260 miles) from the capital, the statement read, without giving details on how they died.
A hand grenade killed one person and injured 70 in Alem Maya, 366 kilometres (230 miles) east of Addis Ababa.
According to local media reports, the students were protesting government proposals to extend its administrative control to several towns in Oromia, sparking fears of land grabs.
“The students… tried to show their grievances by submitting their questions to the local government but the answer they got was beatings, killing, harassment and coercion,” Bekele Nega, secretary of the Oromia Federal Congress party, told AFP.
“These people not only will lose their land, they are also going to lose their culture, their language, their identity, their representation in parliament.”
But the government accused protest leaders of trying to destabilise the country.
“The forces behind the chaos… have a past violent history,” the government statement read, claiming the protests had been encouraged by “media inside and outside the country” for “their evil purpose”, without giving further details.
With nearly 27 million people, Oromia is the most populated of the country’s federal states and has its own language, Oromo, distinct from Ethiopia’s official Amharic language.