Weeklong Protest by Students in Ethiopia Culminates in Fatal Clash With Police

Weeklong Protest by Students in Ethiopia Culminates in Fatal Clash With Police

The Chronicle of Higher Education

Friday, April 20, 2001

By BURTON BOLLAG

 

At least two dozen people were killed and about 250 others injured Wednesday in disturbances sparked by a weeklong protest by students at Addis Ababa University in Ethiopia. News reports indicate that the bloodshed occurred when police officers broke up rioting in the city center. It was not clear how many of the victims were students.

 

The authorities ordered Addis Ababa University closed indefinitely, and local secondary schools and colleges closed until

Monday. The university in Mekele was also reported closed.

 

Tensions began mounting more than a week ago when more than 3,000 students went on strike at Addis Ababa to press demands for the reopening of a student newspaper and for greater student representation in university decision making.

Students also protested the presence of armed police officers on the campus.

 

Last week, Education Minister Genet Zewdie met with officials of Addis Ababa University. Officials say they agreed on "the resumption of the publication of the students' magazine," a mechanism for student representation, and guarantees of students' freedom of expression. Ms. Zewdie later announced that the government had agreed to another student demand: removing police from campus and replacing them with private security guards. However, students were angered when she was unable to provide a deadline for the move.

 

On Monday, the minister issued an ultimatum to students to end their protests and vacate the campus by noon Wednesday, or face automatic expulsion. When students ignored the deadline, Ms. Zewdie ordered police onto the campus, "to safeguard the welfare of students who want to continue with their studies," according to government-run Radio Ethiopia. Rioting near the university and in the city center ensued. University students were joined by high-school students and other youths, who reportedly attacked officers with rocks and bottles, looted shops, and burned busses and other vehicles.

 

Reports say police units sent to quell the disturbances responded brutally, firing into groups of protesters, beating protesters who had given up, and chasing young people into houses and beating whomever they found, including local residents.

 

There has been no official confirmation of the death toll, but a statement aired on state radio and television on Thursday referred to demonstrators as "hoodlums and lumpen." The statement blamed unidentified opposition parties and "so-called human-rights groups" for fomenting the student unrest in an attempt to exploit perceived weaknesses within the ruling Ethiopian Peoples' Democratic Revolutionary Front. The capital was reported quiet Thursday, with some shops reopening.

 

Copyright 2001 by The Chronicle of Higher Education