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Two killed as soldiers open fire on mourners at Ethiopian singer's funeral

Friday July 3, 2020

Demonstrators march during a protest after the death of musician and activist Hachalu Hundessa in St Paul, Minnesota./Brandon Bell/Getty Images

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 sparked violence that has left more than 90 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.

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Despite the shockwave provoked by his death, only a few hundred people 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, said he feared the death toll could be higher, describing security forces shooting as "people were kept from going" to the funeral.

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.

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.

A total of 81 deaths were recorded in Oromia, which regional officials attributed to deadly force used by police as well as inter-ethnic killings.

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".

The streets of Addis were relatively calm Thursday, though traffic was sparse and many shops remained closed.

Officials have not provided casualty figures for the capital, though the US embassy said in a security advisory late Wednesday that eight people had been killed there, including two Ethiopian Federal Police officers.


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