Addis on the edge
Although a rarity in Addis Ababa, clashes between the youth of the city and their counterparts from the surrounding towns of Oromia Special Zone erupted ahead of the return of leaders of the formerly outlawed political organization, the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), leading to an unknown number of youth injured in a three-day confrontation. The reason for the hostility revolves around the flag and colors of OLF.
The clash, which started on Wednesday continuing through Thursday and Friday, occurred when supporters of the previously banned group, who mostly came from towns surrounding Addis Ababa and beyond, entered the city waving OLF flags. This gesture angered some residents of Addis Ababa who clashed with the OLF supporters, with both sides using sticks and stones against each other.
The Reporter has witnessed that the confrontation is over the hoisting of flags symbolizing the Oromo resistance movement and the painting of sidewalks, roads, fences and other places with similar colors of red and green with a yellow at the center; by the youth from Oromia and city dwellers who wanted to prevent them.
Some Addis Ababa dwellers said that they were provoked by OLF supporters whom they accused of attempting to remove the national flag and to erect the OLF emblem.
In another twist, on Friday, the youth from Oromia a.k.a. qeerroo marched to Piazza in what was said to be an attempt to takedown the statue of Menelik II, which is located at the heart of the city. However, they were confronted by Addis Ababans and security forces including Special Forces of the Army and were forced to retreat.
Police told The Reporter that youth that came in buses from different parts of Oromia were holding machetes and sticks with nails hit onto them. They also attempted to loot the police station in Piazza and the police dispersed them by firing bullets.
According to the police at the Piazza Community Policing Center, the vehicles that came carrying around 700 youth have been put under arrest. The Reporter witnessed that injured youth have been sheltered inside the police station waiting for medical support.
The confrontation; widely condemned by several political groups including the Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD), first occurred on Wednesday morning as supporters began erecting OLF emblems around the vicinity of Medhanialem and Pasteur area in the Western side of the capital where they clashed with residents of the area before the Federal Police were deployed at the flashpoint. However, the next day, the clash spread to the northern side of Addis Ababa mainly in Addisu Gebeya, Semen Mazegaja and near Mercato area.
Nevertheless, some support of OLF numbered in the hundreds were also seen staging peaceful rallies around Bole and Megenagna areas sounding slogs like “OLF is Peace”, “OLF respects nations and nationalities” and “Oromos are not narrow nationalists”.
The clash immediately prompted PM Abiy, who was chairing the revitalized Peace Deal negotiation between the warring factions of South Sudan; to come out of the highly anticipated meeting of IGAD leaders, to denounce the clash and called on the two sides for calmness.
Abiy criticized the incident as an attempt to incite violence under the guise of a flag. The right of freedom of expression includes holding flags of their own liking as well; Abiy said adding “we should not marginalize political parties coming from abroad.”
“There will be no single winner when Ethiopians fight over flags or other controversial issues. We should cooperate with each other by resolving our differences through dialogue,” he said.
He further warned that the government will not tolerate such provocations, urging the people to refrain from acts that can incite violence.
On his part, Federal Police Commission Commissioner General, Zeinu Jemal, also called for calm and stressed that his outfit will do what it takes to maintain peace and calm. He said while Oromia youth were within their means to wave any flag of their choice, it was not right to paint Addis Ababa in their preferred colors.
He also blamed young city dwellers who according to him had taken the law into their own hands by taking down flags hoisted by the other party. He also confirmed violent incidents like cars being destroyed, attempts to burn a police station and other properties.
“The youngsters from Oromia are arriving in Addis Ababa to take part in the welcoming ceremony and an open air concert on September 15th. The event is organized for members of a faction of the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) led by Dawud Ibssa.
Though police confirmed that several youth have been injured due to the clash, no exact number is yet disclosed.
Head of the regional state’s communication bureau, Negeri Lencho (PhD) said that all the necessary preparations have been finalized to warmly welcome the delegation of OLF at the event to be held at the Meskel Square in Addis Ababa.
He called on the public, the youth in particular, to do their parts for the warm welcome and peaceful end of the event.
He also urged the people to inform security officers when they see something suspicious.
Once designated as a terror group, the OLF was delisted earlier this month as part of a political reform undertaken by the Abiy administration which assumed office in April.