Ethiopian forces 'killed 400 Oromo protesters'

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People mourn the death a man who was shot dead by the Ethiopian forces the day earlier, in the Yubdo Village, about 100km from Addis Ababa in the Oromia region, on 17 December 2015Image source, AFP
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Officials have acknowledged that more than 170 people were killed during the protests

Ethiopian security forces killed more than 400 people in the recent wave of anti-government demonstrations, US-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) says.

In its most comprehensive report into the Oromo protests, HRW lists the names of more than 300 it says were killed.

The government has acknowledged that protesters have died but said HRW was "very generous with numbers".

Protests were sparked by fears that a plan to expand the capital into Oromia region would displace Oromo farmers.

They began in November last year, but the government dropped the proposal to enlarge Addis Ababa's administrative boundaries in January.

Oromia is Ethiopia's largest region, completely surrounding the city.

The change of policy has not stopped the demonstrations, but they have reduced in their intensity.

At the last census in 2007, the Oromo made up Ethiopia's biggest ethnic group, at about 25 million people out of a population at the time of nearly 74 million.

An investigation, released last week, by the Ethiopia Human Rights Commission, appointed by parliament, found that 173 people had died during the unrest.

It said the dead included 28 security officers and local government officials.

Information Minister Getachew Reda said that in the main the security forces conducted themselves "in a very professional and responsible manner".

He put the killings down to "a few bad apples".

The government has said that it will investigate and deal with those responsible.

Analysis: Emmanuel Igunza, BBC Ethiopia correspondent

Image source, AFP
Image caption,
The protests began in November last year

In March, Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn apologised for the death and destruction of property caused by protests in Oromia region.

While his statement was bold, and came as a surprise, some protesters said it was a case of too little, too late.

The acknowledgment by the country's information minister that deaths had occurred is not different.

There will also be questions about the sincerity of investigating police officers who used unnecessary force.

Can it really do that while dozens of protesters are still being detained and are yet to be charged?

While the protests have died down recently, they remain significant as some believe they are highlighting the alleged marginalisation of the Oromo people.

'Electric shocks'

The HRW report is based on interviews with more than 100 victims and witnesses and accuses the police and army of using excessive force, reports the BBC's Ethiopia correspondent Emmanuel Igunza.

Some of those interviewed allege they were hung by their ankles and beaten while others described having electric shocks applied to their feet while in detention.

Several women also claim to have been raped and sexually assaulted.

HRW also says that tens of thousands of people were arrested and hundreds have disappeared.

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