Dozens Dead in Stampede at Ethiopia Religious Event – NBCNews.com

BISHOFTU, Ethiopia — Dozens of people were crushed to death Sunday in a stampede after police fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse an anti-government protest that grew out of a massive religious festival, witnesses said. The Oromia regional government confirmed the death toll at 52.

“I almost died in that place today,” said one shaken protester who gave his name only as Elias. Mud-covered and shoeless, he said he had been dragged out of a deep ditch that many people fell into as they tried to flee.

The first to fall in had suffocated, he said. “Many people have managed to get out alive, but I’m sure many more others were down there,” he said. “It is really shocking.”

The stampede occurred in one of the East African country’s most politically sensitive regions, Oromia, which has seen months of sometimes deadly demonstrations demanding wider freedoms.

Related: Opposition: Deadly Violence in Ethiopia Likely to Get Worse

An estimated two million people were attending the annual Irrecha thanksgiving event in Bishoftu town southeast of the capital, Addis Ababa. The event took place in one of the East African country’s most sensitive regions, Oromia, which has seen several months of sometimes deadly protests demanding wider freedoms.

The chanting crowds pressed toward a stage where religious leaders were speaking, the witnesses said, and some threw rocks and plastic bottles.

Police responded with tear gas and rubber bullets, and people tried to flee. Some were crushed in nearby ditches, witnesses said.

Ethiopia’s government acknowledged deaths during Sunday’s event. Through a spokesman, it blamed “people that prepared to cause trouble.” The spokesman’s office said many people were taken to hospitals.




Image: ETHIOPIA-RELIGION-UNREST



People throw stones after a deadly stampede during the Oromo new year holiday Irreechaa in Bishoftu on Sunday.