Two killed in clashes as mourners struggle to get into Ethiopian singer's funeral

ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – Two people were killed on Thursday as Ethiopian security forces scuffled with mourners trying to attend the stadium funeral of a singer whose shooting this week sparked protests in which more than 80 people died, hospital officials said.

Haacaaluu Hundeessaa, 36, a member of the Oromo, Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group, was shot dead in Addis Ababa on Monday by unknown gunmen. He was buried on Thursday at a church in Ambo, his home town about 100 km (60 miles) west of the capital.

Haacaaluu’s songs were a soundtrack to a generation of Oromo protesters whose three years of anti-government demonstrations finally forced the resignation of the prime minister in 2018 and his replacement by Abiy Ahmed, whose father is Oromo.

Billene Seyoum, spokeswoman for Abiy, described the singer’s killing as “criminal” and said demonstrators who had come out to express their “disdain” for the act had seen their public mourning hijacked.

“There were elements who have damaged public and private property,” she told Reuters. “The government is fully controlling the situation and exercising its responsibility to ensure the rule of law.”

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Residents reported soldiers, federal police and regional police lining the roads and police firing in the air to deter mourners from entering the stadium.

Sporadic gunfire continued after the short service, residents said. The Ambo university referral hospital said it had received 11 wounded, two of whom had died. The Ambo general hospital said it had received three gunshot victims.

Police did not immediately return calls seeking comment.

At the stadium, a live broadcast showed sparse numbers of people. The singer’s wife, Fantu Demisew Diro, gave a short speech after mourners laid wreaths.

“Haacaaluu is not dead. He will remain in my heart and the hearts of millions of Oromo people forever,” she said. “I request a monument erected in his memory in Addis where his blood was spilt.”

One Ambo resident told Reuters he was determined to attend the service because the electricity had gone out in his house so he could not watch it on television.

“He is our hero, we have to pay him our respects,” said lab technician Mamush Dabala by phone as he got ready to go out. He said he could hear gunshots, but was going anyway.

By late Thursday, the situation in Ambo and Addis was quiet amid a heavy security presence, residents said.

Police were investigating a group of 35 people detained on Tuesday for trying to “hijack” the singer’s body and bury it somewhere in the capital against the will of his family, Billene Seyoum said.

She said this group included Oromo media magnate Jawar Mohammed, a bitter critic of Abiy. The group is also being investigated for escalating ethnic divisions through the media, she said. In October, 86 people died when Jawar’s supporters clashed with police.

Abiy won the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize for peacemaking efforts which ended two decades of hostility with Eritrea.

But the Oromo have long complained of exclusion from political power. In recent months, some Oromo activists like Jawar who initially supported Abiy have become more critical, accusing him of not protecting the interests of the Oromo people.

On Wednesday, Haacaaluu’s uncle was killed during a scuffle between police and a crowed outside the singer’s house, the regional police commissioner told state media.

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