Ethiopia’s Tigray Witnesses Clashes and Arrests Around Opposition Supporters
In the war-torn region of Tigray in Ethiopia, opposition leaders and supporters were subjected to violence and arrest by the police in the lead-up to planned protests. A coalition of three opposition parties had called for demonstrations against the interim administration led by the dominant Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which previously held power in Ethiopia for almost three decades. Hailu Kebede, a senior official in the Salsay Weyane Tigray (SaWeT) party, confirmed that security forces had used force and arrests to disperse the protest. At least 26 individuals, including Hayalu Godefay and Dejen Mezgebe, leaders of SaWeT and the Tigray Independence Party (TIP) respectively, were taken into custody. These actions occurred following the detention of Godefay and Mezgebe for a day on Tuesday when they called for people to protest against the TPLF’s incompetence and autocratic nature.
A local journalist, requesting anonymity, reported that security forces had completely sealed off Romanat Square, the intended location of the rally in the capital city of Mekele. He supported Hailu’s account of the arrests and stated that demonstrators trying to enter the square were subjected to beatings. The journalist further noted that all roads leading to Mekele were closed, restricting movement, and central Mekele’s businesses remained shut, resulting in empty streets.
This political challenge arises as Tigray emerges from a two-year brutal conflict with the federal government of Ethiopia. In November 2022, a peace agreement was signed between the TPLF and the federal government, marking the end of a devastating war that caused significant loss of life and destruction. The authorities in Mekele refused to grant authorization for the demonstrations, citing a shortage of available police officers due to the upcoming Ethiopian New Year on Tuesday. However, the opposition argues that they do not require authorization to stage a peaceful protest.
Getachew Reda, the head of Tigray’s interim government, informed state media that it is not up to opposition parties to dictate the timing and location of protests. He clarified that they did not prohibit the rally from taking place but expressed concerns about the prevailing security conditions. Throughout the conflict, Tigray has faced severe shortages of essential supplies. Although some basic services have been partially restored since the peace deal, media access remains restricted, preventing independent verification of the situation on the ground.
© 2023 AFP