Angry protests in Ethiopia sparked by the killing of popular singer Hachalu Hundessa left more than 80 people dead in a second day of unrest police said Wednesday. Hachalu was known for his protest songs which resonated with the Oromo ethnic group.
"So far 81 people have been killed, including three Oromiya special police force members," said Ararsa Merdasa, the region's police chief.
A policeman was also killed in the capital Addis Ababa, and three explosions there caused an unspecified number of deaths.
In a speech on Tuesday, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said that only "several" people had died.
The military was deployed in the Ethiopian capital on Wednesday, as armed gangs roamed neighbourhoods in a second day of unrest, sparked by the assassination of popular musician Hachalu Hundessa on Monday night.
His killing ignited protests in several Oromo cities on Tuesday.
Melody of protests
Despite being Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group, the Oromos have long complained of being marginalised, both economically and politically.
Hachalu provided a soundtrack to a generation of young protesters. His music, which focused on the rights of the Oromo ethnic group, galvanized protests that led to the downfall of the previous prime minister and Abiy's appointment in 2018.
Hachalu, 34, was a fervent supporter of Abiy's appointment along with prominent media mogul Jawar Mohammed. However, both men became increasingly critical of the prime minister last year, with some Oromo activists accusing him of repression.
Oromo politicians arrested
Jawar, whose Oromo Media Network could pose a significant challenge to Abiy's party in next year's elections, was arrested on Tuesday, together with Oromo opposition leader Bekele Gerba, in connection with an argument over the burial of Hachalu’s body.
The domestic operations of his television network have been shut down and authorities have switched off the internet in parts of the country.
It comes amid tensions following the government's decision to delay this year’s national election, citing the coronavirus pandemic.
The demonstrations in Oromia as well as the capital are the latest indication of seething ethnic grievances that have repeatedly threatened to derail Ethiopia's transition to multiparty democracy.
Abiy said Tuesday, Hachalu's killing was a “tragedy,” vowing that the perpetrators would be brought to justice and declaring that “our enemies will not succeed.”
Hachalu’s funeral is scheduled for Thursday in his home town of Ambo, in the Oromia region.