The military was deployed in the Ethiopian capital on Wednesday as armed gangs roamed neighbourhoods in a second day of unrest that claimed more than 80 lives.
Popular musician Haacaaluu Hundeessaa was shot dead on Monday in what police said was a targeted killing.
Protests following the killing, and a sense of political marginalisation, broke out the next morning in the capital and other towns and cities in the surrounding Oromia region.
The assassination of Haacaaluu, from the country’s largest ethnic group, stoked tensions that threaten to derail the country’s democratic transition.
“So far 81 people have been killed, including three Oromia special police force members,” said Bedassa Merdasa, the Oromia police chief.
Gunshots echoed through many neighbourhoods and gangs armed with machetes and sticks roamed the streets. Witnesses described a situation pitting youths of Oromo origin against some of the city’s other ethnic groups, and where both sides skirmished with police.
Ethiopian singer Hachalu Hundessa shot dead in Addis Ababa
“We had a meeting with the community, and we were told to arm ourselves with anything we have, including machetes and sticks. We no longer trust the police to protect us, so we have to prepare ourselves,” said one Addis Ababa resident, who like others interviewed asked not to be named for fear of reprisal.
The military had been deployed in some areas, three witnesses said. One described a street littered with rocks that anti-Oromo protesters had thrown at police
Many residents feared Haacaaluu’s funeral – scheduled for Thursday in his home town of Ambo – could ignite more violence.
“Security forces have invaded our town, we can’t go out to mourn. No vehicles are moving around except security patrols with machine-guns,” Chala Hunde, 27, said from Ambo, 100km (60 miles) west of Addis.
“The security forces are putting a finger in our wound.”
A tussle over whether to bury Haacaaluu in Ambo or Addis laid bare the political tensions fanning the protests, said Professor Awol Allo at Britain’s Keele University.
“It’s very contentious. Oromos claim the city [Addis] to be theirs as it lies fully within the Oromo regional state,” he said. But the capital is under federal, not regional control.
The state broadcaster reported the arrest of prominent journalist and activist Eskinder Nega, a former political prisoner who runs a pressure group opposed to what it describes as Oromo attempts to dominate the capital.
A policeman was also killed in Addis Ababa, and three explosions there caused an unspecified number of deaths.
Prominent Oromo opposition leader Bekele Gerba and media mogul Jawar Mohammed, along with 34 other people, were also arrested when Jawar’s bodyguards refused to disarm during a standoff with police.
Haacaaluu provided a soundtrack to a generation of young protesters.
Their three years of bloody street demonstrations forced the unprecedented resignation of the previous prime minister and the appointment of Abiy Ahmed in 2018.
Abiy, Haacaaluu and Jawar are all Oromo, Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group, which has long complained of being excluded from power.
Jawar was a prominent supporter of Abiy’s appointment but became more openly critical last year. Jawar’s popular Oromia Media Network gives him the ability to mobilise support quickly across Oromia and his power base could pose a significant challenge to Abiy’s party in next year’s elections.
Ethiopia, an ethnic melting pot of 100 million people, has battled deadly intercommunal tensions in recent years, a major threat to efforts by Abiy to bring about democratic reforms in a country long ruled with an iron fist from Addis Ababa.
“The assassination of an important Oromo musician, subsequent protests which have in places involved property destruction and security forces using lethal force, and the arrest of Oromo leaders, creates a dangerous situation and is another blow to Ethiopia’s troubled transition,” said William Davison, an analyst with the International Crisis Group.
US suspends aid to Ethiopia over Blue Nile dam dispute |NationalTribune.com
Ethiopia says the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam will help lift its population out of poverty [File: Adwa Pictures/AFP] The United States has suspended a portion of its financial aid to Ethiopia over the lack of progress in talks with Egypt and Sudan about a massive dam Addis Ababa is constructing on the Blue Nile River.…
Ethiopia says the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam will help lift its population out of poverty [File: Adwa Pictures/AFP]
The United States has suspended a portion of its financial aid to Ethiopia over the lack of progress in talks with Egypt and Sudan about a massive dam Addis Ababa is constructing on the Blue Nile River.
Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt have been locked in a bitter dispute over the filling and operation of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), which remains unresolved although the reservoir behind the dam began filling in July.
A US Department of State spokesperson told The Associated Press news agency on Tuesday that the decision to “temporarily pause” some aid to a key regional security ally “reflects our concern about Ethiopia’s unilateral decision to begin to fill the dam before an agreement and all necessary dam safety measures were in place”.
Ethiopia considers the hydropower dam essential for its electrification and development but downstream Egypt and Sudan view it as a serious threat to vital water supplies.
It was not immediately clear how many millions of dollars in US aid are being cut, or for how long, but a congressional source told Reuters news agency: “Up to $100m or so will be affected, of which $26m is funding that expires at the end of the [financial year].”
The US move came after the three countries failed on Friday to reach an agreement on the management of the dam following 10 days of negotiations.
The State Department said commencing the filling of the reservoir before necessary safety measures were implemented “created serious risks for the populations of the downstream countries”, according to AFP news agency
It added that by continuing to fill the dam, Ethiopia was undermining confidence in the negotiations.
Fitsum Arega, Ethiopia’s ambassador to Washington, said on Tuesday he had been informed of the US aid cuts.
“They told us the issue is a ‘temporary pause’,” Arega said on Facebook.
“The dam is ours. We will complete it through our efforts. Our Ethiopia will have a bright glow through our efforts,” he added.
Ethiopia, Egypt, Sudan reach ‘major common understanding’ on dam |NationalTribune.com
Ethiopia’s prime minister said on Tuesday his country, Egypt, and Sudan reached a “major common understanding which paves the way for a breakthrough agreement” on a significant dam project that has led to sharp regional tensions and fears of military confrontation. Egypt and Sudan view the dam as a serious threat to vital water supplies, while…
Ethiopia’s prime minister said on Tuesday his country, Egypt, and Sudan reached a “major common understanding which paves the way for a breakthrough agreement” on a significant dam project that has led to sharp regional tensions and fears of military confrontation.
Egypt and Sudan view the dam as a serious threat to vital water supplies, while Ethiopia considers it essential for its electrification and development.
The statement by Abiy Ahmed’s office came as new satellite images show the water level in the reservoir behind the nearly completed $4.6bn Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam is at its highest in at least four years.
Last week Ethiopia acknowledged that water was gathering in the dam’s reservoir, though officials said this was a “natural” part of the construction process.
Ethiopia has said the rising water is from heavy rains, and the statement said, “it has become evident over the past two weeks in the rainy season that the [dam’s] first-year filling is achieved and the dam under construction is already overtopping.”
Press release on the follow-up Extraordinary Meeting of the Bureau of the African Union Assembly on the #GERD. pic.twitter.com/TdhLEnz49l
— Office of the Prime Minister – Ethiopia (@PMEthiopia) July 21, 2020
Ethiopia had said it would begin filling the reservoir of the dam, Africa’s largest, this month even without a deal as the rainy season floods the Blue Nile. But the new statement said the three countries’ leaders have agreed to pursue “further technical discussions on the filling … and proceed to a comprehensive agreement”.
The statement did not give details on Tuesday’s discussions, mediated by current African Union chair and South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, or what had been agreed upon.
But the talks among the country’s leaders showed the critical importance placed on finding a way to resolve tensions over the storied Nile River, a lifeline for all involved.
A general view of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) near Guba in Ethiopia [File: AFP]
Ethiopia says the colossal dam offers a critical opportunity to pull millions of its nearly 110 million citizens out of poverty and become a major power exporter.
Downstream Egypt, which depends on the Nile to supply its farmers and booming population of 100 million with fresh water, asserts it poses an existential threat.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi stressed Egypt’s “sincere will to continue to achieve progress over the disputed issues”, a spokesman’s statement said. It said the leaders agreed to “give priority to developing a binding legal commitment regarding the basis for filling and operating the dam”.
Sudanese Irrigation Minister Yasser Abbas told reporters in the capital, Khartoum, the three leaders “agreed to continue their negotiations to overcome the sticking points.”
He said the negotiations would proceed according to the basic principle of the dam’s “fair and reasonable use”, adding once the agreement has been solidified, Ethiopia will retain the right to amend some figures relating to the dam’s operation during drought periods.
“There are other sticking points, but if we agree on this basic principle, the other points will automatically be solved,” he said.
Both Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and Ethiopia’s leader called Tuesday’s meeting “fruitful”.
Interactive: Saving the Nile
Negotiators have said key questions remain about how much water Ethiopia will release downstream if a multi-year drought occurs and how the countries will resolve any future disputes. Ethiopia rejects binding arbitration at the final stage.
“It is absolutely necessary that Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia, with the support of the African Union, come to an agreement that preserves the interest of all parties,” Moussa Faki Mahamat, chairman of the AU commission, said on Twitter, adding the Nile “should remain a source of peace”.
Years of talks with a variety of mediators have failed to produce a solution.
Kevin Wheeler, a researcher at the Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford, said fears of any immediate water shortages “are not justified at this stage at all, and the escalating rhetoric is more due to changing power dynamics in the region.”
However, “if there were a drought over the next several years, that certainly could become a risk,” he said.
The years-long dispute pits Ethiopia’s desire to become a major power exporter and development engine against Egypt’s concern the dam will significantly curtail its water supply if filled too quickly.
Egypt, which is almost entirely dependent on the Nile for its fresh-water supplies, sees the dam as an existential threat. Sudan has long been caught between the competing interests.
Ethiopia begins filling Grand Renaissance dam on Blue Nile |NationalTribune.com
Ethiopia has acknowedged the water levels behind the giant hydroelectric dam it is building on the Blue Nile River are increasing, though officials described this a natural part of the construction process. The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) has been a source of tension in the Nile River basin ever since Ethiopia broke ground on it in 2011, with…
Ethiopia has acknowedged the water levels behind the giant hydroelectric dam it is building on the Blue Nile River are increasing, though officials described this a natural part of the construction process.
The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) has been a source of tension in the Nile River basin ever since Ethiopia broke ground on it in 2011, with downstream countries Egypt and Sudan worried it will restrict vital water supplies.
Addis Ababa says the project offers a critical opportunity to pull millions of its nearly 110 million citizens out of poverty. It has has long intended to begin filling the dam’s reservoir this month, in the middle of its rainy season, though it has not said exactly when.Cairo and Khartoum are pushing for the three countries first to reach an agreement on how it will be operated.
“The GERD water filling is being done in line with the dam’s natural construction process,” Seleshi Bekele, Ethiopia’s water minister, was quoted by state media as saying on Wednesday, a day after talks with Sudan and Egypt on the project stalled.
He said the water level had increased from 525 metres to 560 metres, but did not say whether Ethiopia had taken steps to store the water in the reservoir. The area has also seen recent heavy rainfall.
Seleshi had tweeted earlier in the day: “The inflow into the reservoir due to heavy rainfall and runoff exceeded the outflow and created natural pooling. This continues until overflow is triggered soon.”
William Davison, an analyst with International Crisis Group (ICG), said Ethiopia has not stated explicitly whether the water backing up behind the dam is due to the remaining outlets being closed, or whether it is simply water accumulating behind the almost complete structure during the rainy season”.
Interactive: Saving the Nile
Egypt has asked Ethiopia for urgent clarification on the matter, its foreign ministry said.
Cairo told the United Nations last month it faces an “existential threat” from the hydroelectric dam.
Sudan’s government, meanwhile, said water levels on the Blue Nile had declined by 90 million cubic metres per day after Ethiopia started filling the dam on its side of the border.
Sudan rejects unilateral actions taken by any party as negotiating efforts continue between the two countries and Egypt, its irrigation ministry said in a statement.
“It was evident from the flow metres in the Dimim border station with Ethiopia that there is a retreat in the water levels … confirming the closure of the gates of the Renaissance Dam,” it said.
Relying on the Nile for more than 90 percent of its water supply and already facing high water stress, Egypt fears a devastating effect on its population of 100 million.
In June, Minister of Foreign Affairs Sameh Shoukry warned conflict could erupt if the UN fails to intervene, as the dam endangers the lives of 150 million Egyptians and Sudanese.
Ahmed Soliman, a research fellow with Chatham House, noted Egypt’s water requirements already outpace its availability.
“What we have in Egypt is a significant gap between the amount of water they produce and the amount of water they consume. And with a rapidly growing population of more than 100 million, it points to this problem only getting worse,” Soliman told Al Jazeera.
Awol Allo, from Keele University in the UK, said Egypt is demanding adherence to a 1959 water treaty, signed between Cairo and Khartoum, that gave Egypt the lion’s share of the Nile’s annual flow.
Ethiopia was not included in that colonial-era treaty.
“I think Ethiopia has been negotiating for a considerable amount of time in good faith to reach a settlement on this issue, but the Egyptians insist on the 1959 treaty as the starting point,” Allo told Al Jazeera.
“There is strong public support for the Ethiopian government to get on with the dam. The majority of Ethiopians are on the same page – that is it is their sovereign right to fill and open the dam.”
Egypt, Ethiopia discuss Nile dam dispute at UN Security Council
Africa’s largest dam
Cairo was anxious to secure a legally binding deal that would guarantee minimum flows and a mechanism for resolving disputes before the dam started operating.
Sudan stands to benefit from the project through access to cheap electricity and reduced flooding, but it has also raised fears over the dam’s operation.
The dam is being built 15km (nine miles) from the border with Sudan on the Blue Nile, the source of most of the Nile’s waters.
The latest round of negotiations between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia over the contentious dam ended with no agreement on Tuesday, according to Egyptian and Sudanese officials.
The failure sank modest hopes the three countries could resolve their differences and sign an agreement on the dam’s operation before Ethiopia began to fill the $4.6bn Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), set to be Africa’s largest.
Ethiopia says more than 60 percent of the country is dry land with no sustaining water resources, while Egypt is endowed with groundwater and has access to seawater that could be desalinated.
Addis Ababa had previously pledged to start storing water in the dam’s vast reservoir at the start of the wet season in July, when rains flood the Blue Nile.
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