Ethiopia NewsThe current situation in Wodiya
Ethiopian security forces on Saturday kiled nearly a dozen people and wounded many others turning a time honored holiday gathering into a nightmare.
It’s becoming an all too familiar storyline in Ethiopia: A religious festival that was supposed to be a joyous occasion turned into a scene of carnage by the security forces’ disproportionate use of force to dispense crowd. The Woldia massacre, in the Wollo district of the Amhara state, took place on the second day of the Ethiopian Epiphany or “Timket” celebration.
Reliable casualty figures are hard to come by amid an internet blackout in the city and surrounding areas, but local reports indicate that federal forces fired live ammunition on unarmed civilians, who chanted anti-government slogans. The death toll is expected to amid rise reports that many are being treated for critical injuries at the Woldia City General Hospital.
The “Timket” celebration is one of the most vibrant, colourful, and popular of Ethiopian traditions. Members of the Ethiopian Orthodox faith commemorate the baptism of Jesus Christ by flocking en masse to roads and meadows surrounding churches. That’s followed by a ceremonial parade of each church’s replica of the Ark of the Covenant known as “Tabot.” Every year, millions take to the streets to see off their local church’s Tabot and roads are often closed off from traffic during the two-day festivities which also attracts a considerable amount of tourists.
On Saturday, the youth in Woldia who turned out in droves were as vociferous and exuberant as they always are on this day, according to eyewitness reports. Political tension has been high in the area in recent months so security was apparently beefed up to ensure that the occasion would not become an opportunity to voice the collective resentment of the region’s people.
Activists allege that yesterday’s calamity came as a result of retaliatory actionby federal security forces against celebrating youth, who chanted political slogans condemning the Ethiopian government. Some protesters reportedly hurled stones at local police officers before the army started shooting at the crowd but none of the demonstrators were armed. Security forces are said to have warned the youth to stop chanting anti-government slogans before unleashing bullets on those who defied the orders. According to eyewitnesses who spoke to Deutsche Welle, the crackdown lasted for hours, with sounds of intermittent gunshots running from 3pm to 6pm local time. The city’s residents also reported seeing troops putting up blockades and restricting the movement of people.
A nurse at the Woldia Hospital told Addis Standard that at least 18 people were hospitalized with gunshot wounds. The city remains militarized. The thousands who left their homes to witness the traditional sending off of the St. Michael “Tabot” may have been stranded as the military set up checkpoints around Woldia.