A protest over water shortages in the southern Ethiopian town of Welkite turned deadly when, witnesses say, security forces opened fire on protesters, killing at least two people.
The protest was started early Thursday morning by a group of elderly women holding jerry cans for carrying water and, according to one witness, gradually swelled to thousands of people.
Adane Kifle, a Welkite resident who was at the protest, told VOA Friday that security forces started telling people to sit down after talking with some protesters.
“When we sat down, we couldn’t really make out what was being said and they were not sharing any information with us. It is in this situation, as I was in the front, that they tear-gassed us," Adane said. "We tried to save ourselves and people started throwing rocks. After then they started shooting. After that people dispersed in different directions.”
Dr. Behailu Dego, a surgeon at Welkite University Referral Hospital, said that two protesters were shot and died on arrival at the hospital.
“All of the injuries were from bullet wounds. The sad part is that we don’t have any blood banks in the area," Dego said. "There were another 4 or 5 people who have had bullet wounds in their arms and legs.”
In a report Friday, the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission put the death toll at three and said at least 30 people had sustained injuries due to bullet wounds.
Officials in the area say the violence was sparked by protesters throwing rocks at the local water bureau building and blocking roads, according to the report.
Welkite, a town of about 70,000, and the capital of the Gurage zone, has been plagued by water shortages for months amid the ongoing drought in the Horn of Africa.
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A resident said there was a water drilling project that local authorities promised would solve the problem. But nothing came of it.
Calls to the mayor of Welkite as well as the zonal peace and security chief went unanswered.