Pop star Hachalu, a member of the Oromo ethnic group, Ethiopia's largest, was shot dead by unknown attackers in Addis Ababa on Monday night, fuelling ethnic tensions.

Ethiopian military ride on their pick-up truck as they patrol the streets following protests in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia July 2, 2020.
Ethiopian military ride on their pick-up truck as they patrol the streets following protests in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia July 2, 2020. (Reuters)

At least 166 people have died during violent demonstrations that roiled Ethiopia in the days following the murder of popular singer Hachalu Hundessa, police said on Saturday.

Pop star and activist Hachalu, a member of the Oromo ethnic group, Ethiopia's largest, was shot dead by unknown attackers in Addis Ababa on Monday night, fuelling ethnic tensions threatening the country's democratic transition.

"In the aftermath of Hachalu's death, 145 civilians and 11 security forces have lost their lives in the unrest in the region," said Girma Gelam, deputy police commissioner of Oromia region, in a statement on the state-affiliated Fana Broadcasting Corporate.

Another 10 are known to have died in the capital Addis Ababa.

Girma said that a further 167 had "sustained serious injuries" and that 1,084 people had been arrested.

The military has been deployed, and hundreds of cars this week were burned or damaged in tense Addis Ababa.

Officials have attributed the deaths to a combination of lethal force by security officers and inter-ethnic violence.

Girma added that the violent unrest had now "completely stopped".

Hachalu's 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.

PM's biggest test

The new unrest poses the prime minister’s greatest domestic test since he took office. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize last year for dramatic reforms, including welcoming home once-banned exile groups, but the more open political space has seen some Ethiopians air ethnic and other grievances. At times it has led to deadly violence, and human rights groups have accused security forces of abuses.

Ethiopia’s internet service has been cut again this week, making it difficult for rights monitor and others to track the scores of killings.

“It’s a moment when people need to pause and de-escalate,” said Murithi Mutiga, project director for the Horn of Africa with the International Crisis Group. He cited a series of challenges in Ethiopia including an armed insurgency in parts of the country and tension over the timing of the next election. The government recently delayed the vote, citing the coronavirus pandemic.

“This is not the first but one in a long line of grave provocations by an actor not yet identified,” Mutiga said, adding that the “wiser course of action is to strive to create an atmosphere of reconciliation and dialogue.”

READ MORE: Police block mourners from Ethiopian singer Hachalu Hundessa's funeral

Source: TRTWorld and agencies