Death toll in student protest put at 24; government warns students

Death toll in student protest put at 24; government warns students

Associated Press



ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AP) - Hospital authorities on Thursday said 24 people were killed during two days of violent street demonstrations in the Ethiopian capital apparently sparked by a weeklong protest by university students demanding greater academic freedom.


A doctor in Menelik Hospital, who asked not to be further identified, said 22 bodies had been collected off the streets and brought to the hospital's morgue since Tuesday. He said one of the 52 injured died after admission to the hospital, and a female university student had died Wednesday in Black Lion Hospital from serious injuries.


He said until autopsies had been performed, it would not be possible to say whether the deaths had been caused by beatings or gunshots.


Police wielding clubs and firing live ammunition clashed with stone-throwing youths on Tuesday and Wednesday in several parts of the capital in the worst violence in since 1993. It was not clear how many of the demonstrators were students.


The government of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi has not given any casualty figures, but in a statement broadcast over state radio and television, it referred to the demonstrators as "hoodlums and lumpen."


 After negotiations between students at Addis Ababa University and the Minister of Education broke down, the government issued an ultimatum telling students to abandon their protest by Wednesday noon or face explusion with no possibility of reinstatement.


Students streamed out of the two campuses on Wednesday, and the university was later closed indefinitely. High schools and primary schools were closed until Monday.


The city was calm on Thursday, but all the shops and stores in the central Piazza area remained closed.


The government statement blamed unidentified opposition parties and "so-called human rights groups" for fomenting the student unrest that led to the rioting in an attempt to exploit perceived weaknesses within the ruling Ethiopian Peoples' Democratic Revolutionary Front "to create confusion and anarchy."


Meles' Tigray People's Liberation Front, the core of the governing coalition, recently suffered a leadership split, and 12 so-called "hardliners" were expelled, apparently because of their opposition of Meles' conduct of Ethiopia's 2 1/2-year border war with Eritrea that ended in December.


 The government statement warned students at other Ethiopian universities not to resort to "illegal procedures" to air their grievances. It also said federal and municipal police had instructions to take all necessary measures to ensure peace and security in the capital, which is the headquarters of the Organization of African Unity and the U.N. Economic Commission for Africa.


Since the EPRDF's arrival in power in May 1991, street demonstrations or protests of any kind have been very rare. The last comparable violence broke out in 1993 when one death  was reported.


Student unrest in the mid-1960s and 1970s preceded violent upheavals in Ethiopia that forced the country's last emperor, Haile Selassie, to institute reforms and ultimately led to his ouster in 1974. Students were also influential in organizing resistance to the military regime that ruled Ethiopia from 1974 to May 1991.