Authorities in Oromia state claimed on Thursday, October 1, to have arrested more than 500 people who they alleged were working to cause disturbances during the annual Irreecha festival, a thanksgiving festival of the Oromo community, which will be observed between Saturday, October 3, and Sunday, October 4. Oromia police commissioner Ararsa Merdasa also claimed on Thursday to have seized a number of firearms, pistols, and hand grenades.
Festival gatherings will likely occur in Meskel Square in Addis Ababa on Saturday and Bishoftu (Oromia region) on Sunday to mark the holiday. In the past, protesters have used the festival as a platform to demonstrate against the government.
Further security operations are likely prior to the festival. Travel disruptions and potential protests, with the potential for clashes between protesters and police, are to be expected during the festival period.
The Irreecha festival marks the transition from the rainy season to the harvest season and draws large-scale crowds to Bishoftu on an annual basis. The 2016 Irreecha festival came amid anti-government unrest across Ethiopia. Clashes between police and protesters during anti-government protests which occurred during festival celebrations in Boshoftu resulted in at least 55 deaths when the clashes provoked a stampede. The 2020 Irreecha celebrations come in the context of the assassination of Hachalu Hundesa, an Oromo singer and activist whose death sparked unrest, and the arrests of Oromo political figures Bekele Gerba and Jawar Mohammed.
Those in Addis Ababa and Oromia region are advised to monitor developments, avoid all protests as a precaution, and adhere to all instructions issued by local authorities.
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