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AMBO Protest: A Personal Account 

Disclaimer: We are no longer Peace Corps Volunteers, and the following is a personal story, not a news report, and does not reflect the views of the U.S. Government, the Peace Corps, the Ethiopian Government, or the people of Ambo. 

Friday, April 25th, the protests began in Ambo. We heard the sounds of a big crowd gathering at the university, walking east, yelling and chanting. The single paved road in town was barricaded, and traffic was diverted around the outskirts of town. 

“What is going on?” we asked a group of high school boys. 

“Oh, the students are angry. They have some problem,” they responded.  

We called some friends at the university, who were able to explain further. Apparently, there are expansion plans for Addis Ababa, which would displace poor Oromo farmers and considerably shrink the size of the Oromia region. Justifiably, many Oromo people were upset. The Ethiopian Constitution guarantees the right to freedom of speech, press, and assembly, so demonstrations started across Oromia, mainly in towns with universities. Some of the protests turned violent.

Saturday, Sunday, and Monday were quiet, somewhat normal days in the town of Ambo. However, in other parts of Ethiopia, journalists and bloggers were arrested and thrown in jail.

Tuesday morning, the protests resumed. Friends in town called us to warn us not to go into work and not to leave our compound. Apparently there were protests at the preparatory school and the federal police were in town. We stayed home all day, listening to the sounds of the protests, denying to ourselves that the ‘pop, pop, pop’ we heard in the afternoon was gunfire. That night, the government-run news station reported that there was a misunderstanding between Oromo university students and the government. Other online reports said that the protestors were defending the Oromo’s right to their land.

Wednesday morning, the protests resumed, and our friends emphasized NOT to leave the house and NOT to answer our front gate. This time, we heard sirens. Ambo only has one ambulance - no police cars or fire trucks - and it wasn’t the normal noise. Again, we heard the ‘pop, pop, pop,’ every few minutes. We poked our heads out of the compound gate and talked to our neighbor, who confirmed that they were, in fact, gun shots. Neighbors said the federal police had already shot and killed demonstrators who were participating in the protest. As we were finishing our conversation, a group of at least 30 adults ran past, glancing nervously behind themselves as they ran.

“Maalif fiigtu? (Why are you running?)” I shouted. 

“Poliisii as dhufu! (The police are coming here!)” a man responded, ducking behind a corner.

An hour later, we headed to the nearest store to stock up on phone cards so we could put minutes on our cell phones and data on our internet device. The storekeeper is a tough older lady who doesn’t tolerate any nonsense.

“Maal taate? (What happened?)” we asked.

She paused, looking down at her hands, her eyes welling with tears.

“Hara’aa….sirrii miti, (Today… not right)” she said, fighting back tears. 

Ironically, as we sat at home, listening to gunshots all day long, John Kerry was visiting Ethiopia, a mere 2 hours away in Addis Ababa, to encourage democratic development.

Around 3pm, while the sounds of the protests were far on the east side of town, we heard gunshots so close to our house that we both ducked reflexively. An hour later, we talked to a young man who said, numbly, “I carried their bodies from their compound to the clinic.” Our two young neighbors – university students – had been hunted down by the federal police and killed in their home while the protest was on the opposite side of town.

Other friends told us other violent stories of what was going on in town, including an incident at a bank. Apparently, students attempted to enter the bank, and one was shot by the police. Not being armed with weapons, protesters retaliated against the shooter by hanging him.

Another friend told us about 2 students who were shot and killed by the federal police in front of a primary school…again, far away from the protest.

Wednesday night, we slept fitfully, listening to the sounds of the federal police coming around our neighborhood. They were yelling over a bullhorn in Amharic, which we didn’t understand, but was later translated for us: “Stay inside your compound tonight and tomorrow.”

Thursday, the bus station was closed and there weren't any cars on the roads. That morning, a Peace Corps driver finally came to get us, looking terrified as he pulled up quickly to our house. We had to stop at the police station to get permission to leave town. While waiting at the station, we saw at least 50 people brought into the station at gunpoint, some from the backs of military trucks and many from a bus. Inside the police compound, there were hundreds of demonstrators overflowing the capacity of the prison, many of them visibly beaten and injured. After the U.S. Embassy requested our release, we headed out of town. The entire east side of town, starting from the bus station, was damaged. A bank, hotel, café, and many cars were damaged or burned. Our driver swerved to avoid the charred remains of vehicles sitting in the middle of the street.

Ambo Protests: Spying the Spy?


After the protests and violence in Ambo, we fled to the capital city of Addis Ababa and stayed at a
little hotel called Yilma. Immediately, we started telling everyone about what happened in Ambo. We called and texted our friends, we talked to anyone at the hotel that would listen, and we posted things on Facebook. If we tell everyone about the protesters in Ambo being imprisoned and killed, surely it will stop, we reasoned.
The next day, two strange men - one tall with dark skin, the other short with lighter skin - struck up a conversation with us in the hotel restaurant.
"We're from Minnesota, here to visit our family in Wollega," they said.
"Oh, we're from St. Paul!" we replied, excited.
"Oh, we're from St. Paul, too!" they said, pulling out a fake-looking Minnesota driver's license.
The address said Worthington, not St. Paul.
"How long have you lived in St. Paul?' we asked.
"Yes." the tall man said, nervously.
"I long have you lived in St. Paul?" we said, slower.
"Just 2 weeks."
"And you're already back in Ethiopia. And you just drove through Ambo, past all the protests and the police, to visit your family in Wollega?" we asked, thinking about the single paved road that heads west through Ambo.
"Yes." he replied.
"You must be very brave," we said, thinking about how the road was closed due to the violence.
"Why?" he asked, baiting us with a stoic face.
We froze, afraid to speak further. At that moment, after 20 months in Ethiopia, we finally understood why so many people in Oromia are afraid of spies. When we first arrived in Ambo, people thought WE were C.I.A. spies, which we found amusing...spies who couldn't even speak the language? If we had been spies, we certainly weren't very good at our job. But now, the tables were turned.
The two men began following us around the hotel area, sitting next to us whenever possible, walking slowly past our table, then returning slowly past our table - sometimes up to 10 times per hour. A different man followed us to a restaurant about a mile from the hotel, then sat at the closest table to ours, rudely joining a young couple's romantic dinner.
For the next three days, we stopped telling people about the protests and the imprisonments and the killings in Ambo. We were afraid that the two men would be listening. We were afraid that someone was monitoring our communications on the government-controlled cell phone service and the government-controlled internet. Were we just paranoid? Were we really being monitored? Maybe we had just integrated too much, to the point where we had become Oromo, afraid of government spies and afraid of speaking out and being put in jail. While being ferenji (foreigners) gave us some level of protection, thoughts of the
Swedish journalists thrown into an Ethiopian jail in 2011 lingered in the backs of our minds. The journalists "were only doing their jobs, and human rights group Amnesty International said the journalists had been prosecuted for doing legitimate work." Did we seem just as suspicious to the government as those Swedish journalists? We didn't want to find out.
Peace Corps gave all the volunteers strict instructions NOT to blog or post on Facebook about the protests or killings across Oromia. It is just too dangerous to say anything about the Ethiopian government, they pointed out.
That's when we decided to leave Ethiopia. For us, staying in Ambo, not ruffling any feathers, was not an option. How could we go back and pretend that our neighbors, students, and and fellow residents didn't die or didn't end up in prison?

Deadly Protests in Ethiopia Over Plans to Expand Capital

 Ethnic Oromos protest in Cairo over violence in Ethiopia

 Protesters gather in front of Arab League to call for international intervention in violent situation in Oromia state, Ethiopia

 Ahram Online , Wednesday 7 May 2014

 Members of the Oromo community organised a protest in front of the Arab League in Cairo's Tahrir Square on Wednesday to denounce the killing of Oromo protesters in Ethiopia last week.

 Dozens of the Oromo protesters demanded the Arab League, African Union and the United Nations intervene in the situation in Ethiopia's Oromo state, where tens of ethnic Oromos were killed last week in protests over the expansion of the capital Addis Ababa.

 Ethnic Oromo students have been protesting since April against the Ethiopian, who they accuse of intending to displace farmers from their territories in the capital of Addis Ababa through plans to develop and urbanise the city.

 Ethiopia: Brutal Crackdown on Protests

 Security Forces Fire On, Beat Students Protesting Plan to Expand Capital Boundaries

 May 5, 2014 

 (Nairobi) – Ethiopian security forces should cease using excessive force against students peacefully protesting plans to extend the boundaries of the capital, Addis Ababa. The authorities should immediately release students and others arbitrarily arrested during the protests and investigate and hold accountable security officials who are responsible for abuses.
On May 6, 2014, the government will appear before the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva for the country’s Universal Periodic Review of its human rights record.
“Students have concerns about the fate of farmers and others on land the government wants to move inside Addis Ababa,” said Leslie Lefkow, deputy Africa director. “Rather than having its security forces attack peaceful protesters, the government should sit down and discuss the students’ grievances.”
Since April 25, students have demonstrated throughout Oromia Regional State to protest the government’s plan to substantially expand the municipal boundaries of Addis Ababa, which the students feel would threaten communities currently under regional jurisdiction. Security forces have responded by shooting at and beating peaceful protesters in Ambo, Nekemte, Jimma, and other towns with unconfirmed reports from witnesses of dozens of casualties.
Protests began at universities in Ambo and other large towns throughout Oromia, and spread to smaller communities throughout the region. Witnesses said security forces fired live ammunition at peaceful protesters in Ambo on April 30. Official government statements put the number of dead in Ambo at eight, but various credible local sources put the death toll much higher. Since the events in Ambo, the security forces have allegedly used excessive force against protesters throughout the region, resulting in further casualties. Ethiopian authorities have said there has been widespread looting and destruction of property during the protests.
The protests erupted over the release in April of the proposed Addis Ababa Integrated Development Master Plan, which outlines plans for Addis Ababa’s municipal expansion. Under the proposed plan, Addis Ababa’s municipal boundary would be expanded substantially to include more than 15 communities in Oromia. This land would fall under the jurisdiction of the Addis Ababa City Administration and would no longer be managed by Oromia Regional State. Demonstrators have expressed concern about the displacement of Oromo farmers and residents on the affected land.|
Ethiopia is experiencing an economic boom and the government has ambitious plans for further economic growth. This boom has resulted in a growing middle class in Addis Ababa and an increased demand for residential, commercial, and industrial properties. There has not been meaningful consultation with impacted communities during the early stages of this expansion into the surrounding countryside, raising concerns about the risk of inadequate compensation and due process protections to displaced farmers and residents.
Oromia is the largest of Ethiopia’s nine regions and is inhabited largely by ethnic Oromos. The Oromos are Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group and have historically felt marginalized and discriminated against by successive Ethiopian governments. The city of Addis Ababa is surrounded on all sides by the Oromia region.
Given very tight restrictions on independent media and human rights monitoring in Ethiopia, it is difficult to corroborate the government crackdown in Oromia. There is little independent media in Oromia to monitor these events, and foreign journalists who have attempted to reach demonstrations have been turned away or detained.
Ethiopia has one of the most repressive media environments in the world. Numerous journalists are in prison, independent media outlets are regularly closed down, and many journalists have fled the country. Underscoring the repressive situation, the government on April 25 and 26 arbitrarily arrested nine bloggers and journalists in Addis Ababa. They remain in detention without charge. In addition, the Charities and Societies Proclamation, enacted in 2009, has severely curtailed the ability of independent human rights organizations to investigate and report on human rights abuses like the recent events in Oromia.
“The government should not be able to escape accountability for abuses in Oromo because it has muzzled the media and human rights groups,” Lefkow said.
Since Ethiopia’s last Universal Periodic Review in 2009 its human rights record has taken a significant downturn, with the authorities showing increasing intolerance of any criticism of the government and further restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression and association. The recent crackdown in Oromia highlights the risks protesters face and the inability of the media and human rights groups to report on important events.
Ethiopian authorities should abide by the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials, which provide that all security forces shall, as far as possible, apply nonviolent means before resorting to force. Whenever the lawful use of force is unavoidable, the authorities must use restraint and act in proportion to the seriousness of the offense. Law enforcement officials should not use firearms against people “except in self-defense or defense of others against the imminent threat of death or serious injury.”
“Ethiopia’s heavy handed reaction to the Oromo protests is the latest example of the government’s ruthless response to any criticism of its policies,” Lefkow said. “UN member countries should tell Ethiopia that responding with excessive force against protesters is unacceptable and needs to stop.”

 Advocate Human Dignity

 Cracking down on Peaceful Protest and Political Dissent in Oromia region of Ethiopia

 For Immediate Release: Killings and beatings by the government against Peaceful Protest in Oromia Region of Ethiopia grows

 May 1, 2014

 Over the last few days, it has come to the attention of Advocates for Human Dignity that there is evidence to suggest that the Ethiopian government took violent measures against its own citizens. These measures, aimed at peaceful protesters, appear to have led to severe injuries and the deaths of civilians.

 Oromo students and opposition groups protest against the expansion of Addis Ababa

 Thousands of ethnic Oromo students and other groups have taken to the street this past week to express their displeasure over the government’s plans to extend the boundaries of the nation’s capital.

 Reports indicate that under the ‘Integrated Development Master Plan’ the state’s limits is set to be extended by more than one million hectares. Commentators have projected that this will swallow up about 36 Oromia cities into the jurisdiction of Addis Ababa.

 Protests have been reported in all the eight major universities in Oromia since Tuesday. Official sources say up to 7 people have been killed and about 70 injured since the protests began. However, the other reports claim the death toll is more than 20.

 Addis Ababa (called ‘finfinne’ by the Oromo) was reportedly at the heart of Oromo culture until it was conquered in the 19th century. Although Addis Ababa has managed to flourish into a large, powerful state, it still remains largely dependent on the neighboring Oromia – the largest state in Ethiopia.

 The protesters accuse the government of marginalizing the Oromo people. They have also charged the authorities of systematically stifling the growth of Oromo nationalism and perpetuating the loss of the ethnic group’s culture.

 Addis Ababa is reportedly one of the fastest growing states in Africa – supported by a buoyant economy and a high rate of rural-urban migration. With a population of over 4 million, Addis Ababa is already regarded as one of the largest cities in sub-saharan Africa.

 While Addis Ababa is manifesting all the unwanted features of a crowded state (i.e. bad traffic, large slum settlement and an increase in crime rates). The state has also experienced an increase in the rate of new constructions and employment opportunities.

 Meanwhile, many commentators continue to underscore the delicacy of the situation – noting that Ethiopia’s deep ethnic division will negatively affect efforts to resolve the dispute.

 The Ethiopian government has, however, dismissed the protests as unrest generated by “confused” students who went on to spread rumours and mislead others.

 Reports indicate that Oromo people in Ethiopia and around the world are planning to stage global protests this month against the contentious plan of their government

 Edale Dessalegn 9TH GRADE STUDENT Killed in AMBO All across the Oromia region of Ethiopia, high school children and youth groups from Universities took to the streets expressing their demand for freedom, justice, and respect for universally recognized civil and political rights.

 Since yesterday, our contacts on the ground have been documenting evidence that suggests that in Oromia cities including: Ambo, Guder, Bale, Adama, Nekemt, Haromaya, Gimbi,Nejjo, Horro Guduru, and Addis Ababa dozens have been killed and several hundred jailed incommunicado by the Ethiopian government. The detaining of the online bloggers known as “zone9ers” in the capital Addis Ababa remains an example of the worsening hostility by the government against freedom of the press in the country. The reports of beatings and killings perpetrated against Oromo students by the government, being done in a manner that appears to single out members of an ethic group, is worrying. The information coming out of the Omoro region suggests that there is reason for significant concern that human rights abuses have been perpetrated by organs of the state and more abuses are likely to continue. AHD calls for the end of this violence and for an effective investigation to take place. Recognizing the poor track record of Ethiopia in relation to human rights and the severity of the harm caused, it is imperative that the international community gets involved to ensure an effective investigation including charges being filed against perpetrators where evidence warrants such charges.

 As an international human rights organization that stands for and advocates for dignity and equality for all human beings, we express our deepest condolences to the relatives and families of those who lost their lives in the Oromia region of Ethiopia. We would like to take this opportunity to call on all other organizations to listen to the voice of the people in Ethiopia. We are extremely concerned by reports that the Ethiopian military is using live ammunition against innocent children and students from high school and universities in the region. We will continue to closely monitor this situation and report as events continue to unfold.

 For Immediate Release: Advocate Human Dignity Statement on the ongoing violation of human rights in Ethiopia. 

 April 30, 2014

 It is with deep concern that Advocates for Human Dignity learns of the appalling and atrocious acts of human rights violations by the Ethiopian government against peaceful public protesters and innocent university and high school students in Oromia region. In different districts of the region including Ambo, Bale, Adama, Dire Dawa, Gimbi and Dembi Dollo, where students and the public went out on the street to claim their constitutional right, the government responded with bullets and beatings and dozens are reported dead. Our organization has learned about numerous killings and beatings by the notorious military force known as Agazi and there are reported disappearances and other inhuman and degrading acts carried by the regime. The regime also jailed online bloggers known as “zone9”, showing utter disregard for freedom of press, equality and justice in the country. It is to be noted that Ethiopia journalists and political dissidents are languishing in jail since the draconian laws were enacted by the state.

 Along with a number of other international human rights organizations, AHD expresses its concern that the government of Ethiopia continue to diminish its own citizens by extra-judicial killings and dispossession of indigenous people from their heritages. We strongly condemn the widespread and systematic violations of human rights of every Ethiopians particularly the ongoing killings and discrimination against the Oromo people should come to an end. The government shall refrain from its long-held tradition of discriminating against the Oromo people and all other people in Ethiopia. These acts are contrary to the international legal obligations of Ethiopia. Advocates Human Dignity is closely monitoring the situation in Ethiopia as it unfolds and will post the updates on this page.

 Agence France-Presse


 May 5, 2014 8:19May 5, 2014 8:19 

 Ethiopia shot 'peaceful protesters': rights group

 Ethiopian security forces shot dead peaceful protesters in student demonstrations last week, Human Rights Watch said Tuesday, quoting "credible" claims of a death toll "much higher" than the official figure of eight.


"Witnesses said security forces fired live ammunition at peaceful protesters in Ambo on April 30," HRW said in a statement accusing security forces of using massive force.


The state news agency said last week that mass protests caused "loss of lives and property" in several university towns in Oromia, Ethiopia's largest region.


The government said eight were killed in the violence, which it blamed on "anti-peace" forces, but according to HRW "various credible local sources put the death toll much higher."

 "Security forces have responded by shooting at and beating peaceful protesters in Ambo, Nekemte, Jimma, and other towns with unconfirmed reports from witnesses of dozens of casualties," the HRW statement added.

 "Ethiopian security forces should cease using excessive force against students peacefully protesting... the authorities should immediately release students and others arbitrarily arrested during the protests," it added.

 With nearly 27 million people, Oromia is the most populated of the country's federal states and has its own language, Oromo, distinct from Ethiopia's official Amharic language.

 According to local media reports, the students were protesting government proposals to extend its administrative control to several towns in Oromia, sparking fears of land grabs.

 But the government accused protest leaders of trying to destabilise the country.

 "The forces behind the chaos... have a past violent history," the government statement read, claiming the protests had been encouraged by "media inside and outside the country" for "their evil purpose", without giving further details.

 Government officials were not immediately available to comment on HRW's claims, but have routinely dismissed its reports in the past.

 Last month government spokesman Getachew Reda told AFP that "we don't take orders" from the group, after HRW criticised the arrest of nine journalists and bloggers.

 Addis Ababa said the nine were arrested for "serious criminal activities".


 Human Rights Watch condemns Ethiopia’s crackdown on media, activists

 By Tesfa-Alem Tekle

 May 5, 2014 (ADDIS ABABA) – Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Monday urged United Nations member states to exert pressure on the Ethiopian government to end the targeting of activists and media under its controversial laws.

 On Tuesday, the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) begins a review of Ethiopia’s human rights record under the universal periodic review procedure, only days after Ethiopian authorities arrested nine news providers.

 On 25 and 26 April, police arrested six bloggers from the Zone 9 website and three journalists reportedly accusing them of plotting to incite violence and instability in collaboration with foreign activists.

 Government officials denied their arrest was in connection with their journalistic duties, claiming that they were implicated in “serious criminal activities”, without giving further details.

 The arrests were made a few days before US secretary of state John Kerry’s visit to Ethiopia as part of his tour to three African countries.

 The arrests prompted widespread condemnation from international press freedom groups and rights human organisations.

 The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said the mass arrests were one of the world’s worst crackdowns against free expression.

 While Amnesty international said the arrests fit into Ethiopia’s long term trend of arresting and harassing human rights defenders, journalists and political opponents.

 An Ethiopian political activist, who asked for anonymity, told Sudan Tribune that such arrests against critical journalists and political opponents is not a surprise considering that elections are less than one year away.

 Exercising free speech and particularly criticising the ruling government when elections are approaching is considered an absolute crime, he added.

 In a statement, HRW said that UN member states should use the periodic review to openly press Ethiopian government to stop the sweeping crackdown against freedom of speech and respect constitutional and international laws on media freedom.

 “The UN review is taking place just as Ethiopia is renewing its crackdown on free speech,” said Leslie Lefkow, HTW’s deputy Africa director.

 “To make this review meaningful, UN member countries should forcefully tell Ethiopia that its attacks on the media and activist groups are a blight on its human rights record,”added Lefkow.

 HRW said Ethiopia has failed to comply with the recommendations of 2009, when the UN made its first Universal Periodic Review of the East African nation.

 The human rights group said that the human rights situation in Ethiopia has deteriorated substantially and the authorities in Ethiopia have shown intolerance of any criticism and they have sharply restricted the rights to free expression and association.

 According to international rights organisations, Ethiopia is one among some of the worlds most closed press environments.

 The Horn of Africa nation is the continent’s foremost jailer of journalists next to neighbouring Eritrea.

 Many critical journalists face lengthy jail terms under the country’s controversial, vague and broadly defined anti-terror legislation.

 With 49 journalists forced into exile, Ethiopia is also third worst after Somalia and Iran in terms of forcing an exodus of journalists.


Amid rising tensions in Ethiopia

 Wednesday May 07, 2014 - 11:40:10 in Articles by Super Admin

 As political crisis rise in Ethiopia only few months before the general election, the main powerful opposition groups discussed about the recently peaceful protests that left at least 40 students killed, during demonstrations against, Tigray Peoples Liberation Front, the ruling party's endeavor to expand the capital city of Addis Ababa in part of the Oromia state.

 Violence erupted in several university campuses across Oromia state as ethnic Oromo students protested against Addis Ababa's annexation. 

 Amid increasing tensions in Oromia state and fresh killings of Aware by the Ethiopian Security Forces in Ogaden Region, The assistant of ONLF Foreign Secretary for Ethiopian Affairs and deputy Communities mobilizer and the Group's affairs ,Hassan Moalin, called Addis Ababa regime " a state-sponsored terrorism," the ONLF's news portal, Ogaden News Agency reported today.
"Mr. Moalin condemned the killings of the Oromo students in a cold-blooded and sends condolences to the students victims and their families behalf of the ONLF," the report said.

 "The ONLF official suggested that the importance of collaborating against what he called "the common enemy" of the two nations under Ethiopian occupation in order to resist the merciless Ethiopian regime," The Ogaden News agency stated. 

 Dr.Shugt Gellat ,OLF Foreign Secretary , in his part first thanked Somali people from Ogaden Region around the globe saying that he will always remember their overwhelmed with tenderness for the students,when they saw the Ethiopian army brutality" .

 During the call, both officials called on the two-brotherly civilians to unite in-and-outside of the country to oust the ruling party of TPLF, in part of liberating Oromia and Ogadenia territories.

 It is not the first time that officials from Ogaden National Liberation Front and Oromo Liberation to reach out and discuss the future states of Ogadenia and Oromia ,since January 2014, a number of official meetings took place in abroad ,even though, Oromo and Somalis from Ogaden protested side-by-side against the Ethiopian regime,it was only earlier this week when they held a joint-meeting in Minnesota, United States.

 At least 9 killed in Ethiopia student riots: govt

 May 2, 2014

 Addis Ababa (AFP) – At least nine people have been killed and 70 injured at student protests in southern Ethiopia this week, including in a grenade attack, the government said in a statement late Thursday.

 The government blamed “anti-peace” forces for inciting violence, while opposition groups accused the police of brutality.

 According to a statement on the state news agency, mass demonstrations caused “loss of lives and property” in several university towns in Oromia, Ethiopia’s largest region.

 The riots, which began Wednesday after “students confused by deliberately misleading rumours and gossips created havoc”, had been brought under control, it added.

 Five people were killed in Ambo, about 125 kilometres (80) west of Addis Ababa, and another three people killed near Bidire, about 415 kilometres (260 miles) from the capital, the statement read, without giving details on how they died.

 A hand grenade killed one person and injured 70 in Alem Maya, 366 kilometres (230 miles) east of Addis Ababa.

 According to local media reports, the students were protesting government proposals to extend its administrative control to several towns in Oromia, sparking fears of land grabs.

 “The students… tried to show their grievances by submitting their questions to the local government but the answer they got was beatings, killing, harassment and coercion,” Bekele Nega, secretary of the Oromia Federal Congress party, told AFP.

 “These people not only will lose their land, they are also going to lose their culture, their language, their identity, their representation in parliament.”

 But the government accused protest leaders of trying to destabilise the country.

 “The forces behind the chaos… have a past violent history,” the government statement read, claiming the protests had been encouraged by “media inside and outside the country” for “their evil purpose”, without giving further details.

 With nearly 27 million people, Oromia is the most populated of the country’s federal states and has its own language, Oromo, distinct from Ethiopia’s official Amharic language.



May 2, 2014 (VOA News) — Witnesses say Ethiopian police have killed at least 17 protesters during demonstrations in Ethiopia’s Oromia region against plans to annex territory to expand the capital, Addis Ababa.

 Authorities put the protest-related death toll at 11 and have not said how the demonstrators were killed. The main opposition party says 17 people were killed while witnesses and residents say the death toll is much higher.

 Residents say that an elite government security force opened fire on protesters at three university campuses.

 The demonstrations erupted last week against plans by the Ethiopian government to incorporate part of Oromia into the capital. Oromia is Ethiopia’s largest region and Oromos are the country’s largest ethnic group.

 Oromos say the government wants to weaken their political power. They say expanding the capital threatens the local language, which is not taught in Addis Ababa schools.

 Ethiopian officials say the master plan for expansion was publicized long ago and would bring city services to remote areas.

 They accuse those they call “anti-peace forces” of trying to destroy Ethiopia’s ethnic harmony.

 Source: VOA








Ambo, Oromia: Ambo students killed in Oromia state

May 2, 2014 BBC NEWS

At least nine students have died during days of protests in Ethiopia's Oromia state, the government has said.

However, a witness told the BBC that 47 were killed by the security forces.

She said the protests in Ambo, 125km (80 miles) west of Addis Ababa began last Friday over plans to expand the capital into Oromia state.

The government did not say how most of the deaths had been caused but the Ambo resident said she had seen the army firing live ammunition.


James Hassam

Addis Ababa

The student protestors are from Ethiopia's biggest ethnic group, the Oromo, numbering around 27 million people.

Oromia is the country's largest region, completely surrounding the capital Addis Ababa, although the city is itself part of the Amhara region.

Its people speak their own language - Oromifa - and see themselves as very different from the Amhara.

The protesters believe they face losing their regional and cultural identity if plans to extend Addis Ababa's administrative control into parts of Oromia get the go-ahead.

Some have also raised fears of the potential for land grabs.

The so called "master-plan" for Addis Ababa is currently out for public consultation and the government says people are being given opportunities to raise their concerns.

Officials say the plan has been well publicised and will bring city services to poor rural areas.

The protestors claim they merely wanted to raise questions about the plan - but were answered with violence and intimidation.

"I saw more than 20 bodies on the streets," she said.

"I am hiding in my house because I am scared."

The Ambo resident said that four students had been killed on Monday and another 43 in a huge security crackdown on Tuesday, after a huge demonstration including many non-students.

Since then, the town's streets have been deserted, she said, with banks and shops closed and no transport.

She said teaching had been suspended at Ambo University, where the protests began, and students prevented from leaving.

In a statement, the government said eight people had died during violent protests led by "anti-peace forces" in the towns of Ambo and Tokeekutayu, as well as Meda Welabu University, also in Oromia state.

It said one person had been killed "in a related development" when a hand grenade was thrown at students watching a football match.

The statement blamed the protests on "baseless rumours" being spread about the "integrated development master plan" for the capital.

BBC Ethiopia analyst Hewete Haileselassie says some ethnic Oromos feel the government is dominated by members of the Tigre and Amhara communities and they would be loath to see the size of "their" territory diminish with the expansion of Addis Ababa, which is claimed by both Oromos and Amharas.

Wayane regime uses spyware against journalists, even in U.S.

 Video: The Post's Craig Timberg breaks down a new report by digital watchdog group The Citizen Lab, which suggests the Ethiopian government is hacking the computers of Ethiopian journalists in the D.C. area.  

By Craig Timberg, Published: February 12 

E-mail the writer  

Mesay Mekonnen was at his desk, at a news service based in Northern Virginia, when gibberish suddenly exploded across his computer screen one day in December. A sophisticated cyber­attack was underway. 

But this wasn’t the Chinese army or the Russian mafia at work. 

Origin of hacking attempts on journalists

 (Astrid Riecken/For The Washington Post) - Neamin Zeleke, managing director of Ethiopian Satelite Television, suspects that the Ethiopian government has employed spyware to identify opposition supporters.

 Instead, a nonprofit research lab has fingered government hackers in a much less technically advanced nation, Ethi­o­pia, as the likely culprits, saying they apparently used commercial spyware, essentially bought off the shelf. This burgeoning industry is making surveillance capabilities that once were the exclusive province of the most elite spy agencies, such as National Security Agency, available to governments worldwide. 

The targets of such attacks often are political activists, human rights workers and journalists, who have learned that the Internet allows authoritarian governments to surveil and intimidate them even after they have fled to supposed safety. 

That includes the United States, where laws prohibit unauthorized hacking but rarely succeed in stopping intrusions. The trade in spyware itself is almost entirely unregulated, to the great frustration of critics. 

“We’re finding this in repressive countries, and we’re finding that it’s being abused,” said Bill Marczak, a research fellow for Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs, which released a report Wednesday. “This spyware has proliferated around the world . . . without any debate.”

 Citizen Lab says the spyware used against Mekonnen and one other Ethio­pian journalist appears to have been made by Hacking Team, an Italian company with a regional sales office in Annapolis. Its products are capable of stealing documents from hard drives, snooping on video chats, reading e-mails, snatching contact lists, and remotely flipping on cameras and microphones so that they can quietly spy on a computer’s unwitting user. 

Some of the targets of recent cyberattacks are U.S. citizens, say officials at Ethio­pian Satellite Television’s office in Alexandria, where Mekonnen works. Others have lived in the United States or other Western countries for years. 

“To invade the privacy of American citizens and legal residents, violating the sovereignty of the United States and European countries, is mind-boggling,” said Neamin Zeleke, managing director for the news service, which beams reports to Ethi­o­pia, providing a rare alternative to official information sources there. 

Citizen Lab researchers say they have found evidence of Hacking Team software, which the company says it sells only to governments, being used in a dozen countries, including Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Sudan, Saudi Arabia and Azerbaijan. 

The Ethio­pian government, commenting through a spokesman at the embassy in Washington, denied using spyware. “The Ethiopian government did not use and has no reason at all to use any spyware or other products provided by Hacking Team or any other vendor inside or outside of Ethi­o­pia,” Wahide Baley, head of public policy and communications, said in a statement e-mailed to The Washington Post.

 Hacking Team declined to comment on whether Ethi­o­pia was a customer, saying it never publicly confirms or denies whether a country is a client because that information could jeopardize legitimate investigations. The company also said it does not sell its products to countries that have been blacklisted by the United States, the United Nations and some other international groups.  

“You’ve necessarily got a conflict between the issues around law enforcement and the issues around privacy. Reasonable people come down on both sides of that,” said Eric Rabe, a U.S.-based senior counsel to Hacking Team. “There is a serious risk if you could not provide the tools that HT provides.”

 The FBI, which investigates computer crimes, declined to comment on the Citizen Lab report.

 Allegations of abuse 

 Technology developed in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks has provided the foundation for a multibillion-dollar industry with its own annual conferences, where firms based in the most developed countries offer surveillance products to governments that don’t yet have the ability to produce their own. 

Hacking Team, which Reporters Without Borders has named on its list of “Corporate Enemies” of a free press, touted on its Web site that its “Remote Control System” spyware allows users to “take control of your targets and monitor them regardless of encryption and mobility. It doesn’t matter if you are after an Android phone or a Windows computer: you can monitor all the devices.” 

Hacking Team software has been used against Mamfakinch, an award-winning Moroccan news organization, and Ahmed Mansoor, a human rights activist in the United Arab Emirates who was imprisoned after signing an online political petition, Citizen Lab reported. Another research group, Arsenal Consulting, has said Hacking Team software was used against an American woman who was critical of a secretive Turkish organization that is building schools in the United States. 

Such discoveries have sparked calls for international regulation of Hacking Team and other makers of spyware, which typically costs in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, according to experts. 

By selling spyware, “they are participating in human rights violations,” said Eva Galperin, who tracks spyware use for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a civil liberties group based in San Francisco. “By dictator standards, this is pretty cheap. This is pocket change.” 

Rabe, the Hacking Team official, said that the company does not itself deploy spyware against targets and that, when it learns of allegations of human rights abuses by its customers, it investigates those cases and sometimes withdraws licenses. He declined to describe any such cases or name the countries involved. 

Ethio­pian Satellite Television, typically known by the acronym ESAT, started in 2010 and operates on donations from members of the expatriate community. The news service mainly employs journalists who left Ethi­o­pia in the face of government harassment, torture or criminal charges. Though avowedly independent, ESAT is viewed as close to Ethiopia’s opposition forces, which have few other ways of reaching potential supporters. 

Despite the nation’s close relationship with the U.S. government — especially in dealing with unrest and Islamist extremism in neighboring Somalia — the State Department has repeatedly detailed human rights abuses by the Ethi­o­pian government against political activists and journalists. There has been little improvement, observers say, since the 2012 death of the nation’s longtime ruler, Meles Zenawi. 

“The media environment in Ethi­o­pia is one of the most repressive in Africa,” said Felix Horne, a researcher for Human Rights Watch. “There are frequent cases of people who have spoken to journalists being arrested. There’s very little in the way of free flow of information in the country. The repressive anti-terrorism law is used to stifle dissent. There are a number of journalists in prison for long terms for doing nothing but practicing what journalists do.” 

Taking the bait  

Mekonnen was wary as soon as he received a document, through a Skype chat with a person he did not know, on Dec. 20. But the file bore the familiar icon of a Microsoft Word file and carried a name, in Ethiopia’s Amharic language, suggesting that it was a text about the ambitions of a well-known political group there. The sender even used the ESAT logo as his profile image, suggesting the communication was from a friend, or at least a fan. 

When the screen filled with a chaotic series of characters, Mekonnen knew he had been fooled — in hacker jargon, he had taken “the bait” — yet it wasn’t clear what exactly was happening to his computer, or why. 

That same day, an ESAT employee in Belgium also had received mysterious documents over Skype chats. Noticing that the files were of an unusual type, he chose not to open them on his work computer. Instead, the ESAT employee uploaded one of the files to a Web site, VirusTotal, that scans suspicious software for signs of their origins and capabilities. 

That Web site also has a system to alert researchers when certain types of malicious software are discovered. Marczak, the Citizen Lab researcher, who had been tracking the spread of spyware from Hacking Team and other manufacturers, soon got an e-mail from VirusTotal reporting that a suspicious file had been found, carrying telltale coding. 

Marczak, a doctoral student in computer science at the University of California at Berkeley, had worked with members of the Ethio­pian community before, during an attempted hacking incident last April. When he received the alert from VirusTotal, he got in touch with ESAT’s offices in Alexandria and began looking for signs of Hacking Team software on the news service’s computers. He was eventually joined in the detective work by three other researchers affiliated with Citizen Lab, Claudio Guarnieri, Morgan Marquis-Boire and John Scott-Railton. They did not detect an active version of the spyware on Mekonnen’s computer, suggesting it had failed to activate properly or was removed by the hackers who deployed it. But when Citizen Lab analyzed the file itself — still embedded in Mekonnen’s Skype account — its coding tracked closely to other Hacking Team spyware, Marczak said. 

The Citizen Lab team found that the spyware was designed to connect to a remote server that used an encryption certificate issued by a group listed as “HT srl,” an apparent reference to Hacking Team. The certificate also mentioned “RCS,” which fits the acronym for the company’s “Remote Control System” spyware. 

The researchers discovered a similar encryption certificate used by a server whose IP address was registered to Giancarlo Russo, who is Hacking Team’s chief operating officer. The phone number and mailing address associated with that server’s IP address matched the company’s headquarters in Milan, Citizen Lab said. 

The evidence of Ethiopia’s involvement was less definitive — as is common when analysts attempt to learn the origin of a cyberattack — though the Citizen Lab researchers express little doubt about who was behind the attack. The document that Mekonnen downloaded, they noted, had a title in Amharic that referred to Ethio­pian politics, making clear that the attackers had deep knowledge of that country. 

In addition, few governments have enough interest in Ethio­pian politics to deploy a sophisticated spyware attack against journalists covering the country, Marczak said. “I can’t really think of any other government that would like to spy on ESAT.” 

The biggest fear among journalists is that spies have accessed sensitive contact lists on ESAT computers, which could help the government track their sources back in Ethi­o­pia. 

“This is a really great danger for them,” Mekonnen said. 

The latest from Craig Timberg: 

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 New surveillance technology can track everyone in an area for several hours at a time

Video: The Post's Craig Timberg describes an aerial camera setup from Persistent Surveillance Systems that acts almost like a time machine for police, letting them watch criminals—and everyone else. 

By Craig Timberg, Published: February 5E-mail the writer  

DAYTON, Ohio — Shooter and victim were just a pair of pixels, dark specks on a gray streetscape. Hair color, bullet wounds, even the weapon were not visible in the series of pictures taken from an airplane flying two miles above. 

But what the images revealed — to a degree impossible just a few years ago — was location, mapped over time. Second by second, they showed a gang assembling, blocking off access points, sending the shooter to meet his target and taking flight after the body hit the pavement. When the report reached police, it included a picture of the blue stucco building into which the killer ultimately retreated, at last beyond the view of the powerful camera overhead. 

A surveillance system designed by a Dayton, Ohio-based company can track crimes in real time, as they occur. 


From 10,000 feet up, tracking an entire city at one glance: Ohio-based Persistent Surveillance Systems is trying to convince cities across the country that its surveillance technology can help reduce crime. Its new generation of camera technology is far more powerful than the police cameras to which America has grown accustomed. But these newer cameras have sparked some privacy concerns.

“I’ve witnessed 34 of these,” said Ross McNutt, the genial president of Persistent Surveillance Systems, which collected the images of the killing in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, from a specially outfitted Cessna. “It’s like opening up a murder mystery in the middle, and you need to figure out what happened before and after.” 

As Americans have grown increasingly comfortable with traditional surveillance cameras, a new, far more powerful generation is being quietly deployed that can track every vehicle and person across an area the size of a small city, for several hours at a time. Although these cameras can’t read license plates or see faces, they provide such a wealth of data that police, businesses and even private individuals can use them to help identify people and track their movements. 

Already, the cameras have been flown above major public events such as the Ohio political rally where Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) named Sarah Palin as his running mate in 2008, McNutt said. They’ve been flown above Baltimore; Philadelphia; Compton, Calif.; and Dayton in demonstrations for police. They’ve also been used for traffic impact studies, for security at NASCAR races and at the request of a Mexican politician, who commissioned the flights over Ciudad Juárez. 

Video: A time machine for police, letting them watch criminals — and everyone else. 

Defense contractors are developing similar technology for the military, but its potential for civilian use is raising novel civil liberties concerns. In Dayton, where Persistent Surveillance Systems is based, city officials balked last year when police considered paying for 200 hours of flights, in part because of privacy complaints. 

“There are an infinite number of surveillance technologies that would help solve crimes . . . but there are reasons that we don’t do those things, or shouldn’t be doing those things,” said Joel Pruce, a University of Dayton postdoctoral fellow in human rights who opposed the plan. “You know where there’s a lot less crime? There’s a lot less crime in China.” 

The Supreme Court generally has given wide latitude to police using aerial surveillance as long as the photography captures images visible to the naked eye. 

McNutt, a retired Air Force officer who once helped design a similar system for the skies above Fallujah, a battleground city in Iraq, hopes to win over officials in Dayton and elsewhere by convincing them that cameras mounted on fixed-wing aircraft can provide far more useful intelligence than police helicopters do, for less money.  

A single camera mounted atop the Washington Monument, McNutt boasts, could deter crime all around the Mall. He said regular flights over the most dangerous parts of Washington — combined with publicity about how much police could see — would make a significant dent in the number of burglaries, robberies and murders. His 192-megapixel cameras would spot as many as 50 crimes per six-hour flight, he estimated, providing police with a continuous stream of images covering more than a third of the city. 

“We watch 25 square miles, so you see lots of crimes,” he said. “And by the way, after people commit crimes, they drive like idiots.” 

What McNutt is trying to sell is not merely the latest techno-wizardry for police. He envisions such steep drops in crime that they will bring substantial side effects, including rising property values, better schools, increased development and, eventually, lower incarceration rates as the reality of long-term overhead surveillance deters those tempted to commit crimes. 

Dayton Police Chief Richard Biehl, a supporter of McNutt’s efforts, has proposed inviting the public to visit the operations center to get a glimpse of the technology in action. 

“I want them to be worried that we’re watching,” Biehl said. “I want them to be worried that they never know when we’re overhead.” 

Technology in action  

McNutt, a suburban father of four with a doctorate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is not deaf to concerns about his company’s ambitions. Unlike many of the giant defense contractors that are eagerly repurposing wartime surveillance technology for domestic use, he sought advice from the American Civil Liberties Union in writing a privacy policy. 

It has rules on how long data can be kept, when images can be accessed and by whom. Police are supposed to begin looking at the pictures only after a crime has been reported. Fishing expeditions are prohibited. 

The technology has inherent limitations as well. From the airborne cameras, each person appears as a single pixel indistinguishable from any other person. What people are doing — even whether they are clothed or not — is impossible to see. As technology improves the cameras, McNutt said he intends to increase their range, not the precision of the imagery, so that larger areas can be monitored. 

The notion that McNutt and his roughly 40 employees are peeping Toms clearly rankles. The company made a PowerPoint presentation for the ACLU that includes pictures taken to assist the response to Hurricane Sandy and the severe Iowa floods last summer. The section is titled: “Good People Doing Good Things.” 

“We get a little frustrated when people get so worried about us seeing them in their backyard,” McNutt said in his operation center, where the walls are adorned with 120-inch monitors, each showing a different grainy urban scene collected from above. “We can’t even see what they are doing in their backyard. And, by the way, we don’t care.” 

Yet in a world of increasingly pervasive surveillance, location and identity are becoming all but inextricable. One quickly leads to the other for those with the right tools. 

During one of the company’s demonstration flights over Dayton in 2012, police got reports of an attempted robbery at a bookstore and shots fired at a Subway sandwich shop. The cameras revealed a single car moving between the two locations. 

By reviewing the images frame by frame, analysts were able to help police piece together a larger story: A man had left a residential neighborhood at midday and attempted to rob the bookstore, but fled when somebody hit an alarm. Then he drove to Subway, where the owner pulled a gun and chased him off. His next stop was a Family Dollar Store, where the man paused for several minutes. He soon returned home, after a short stop at a gas station where a video camera captured an image of his face. 

A few hours later, after the surveillance flight ended, the Family Dollar Store was robbed. Police used the detailed map of the man’s movements, along with other evidence from the crime scenes, to arrest him for all three crimes. 

On another occasion, Dayton police got a report of a burglary in progress. The aerial cameras spotted a white truck driving away from the scene. Police stopped the driver before he got home and found the stolen goods in the back of the truck. A witness identified him soon afterward. 

Privacy concerns  

In addition to normal cameras, the planes can carry infrared sensors that permit analysts to track people, vehicles or wildlife at night — even through foliage and into some structures, such as tents. 

Courts have put stricter limits on technology that can see things not visible to the naked eye, ruling that they can amount to unconstitutional searches when conducted without a warrant. But the lines remain fuzzy as courts struggle to apply old precedents — from a single overflight carrying an officer equipped with nothing stronger than a telephoto lens, for example — to the rapidly advancing technology. 

“If you turn your country into a totalitarian surveillance state, there’s always some wrongdoing you can prevent,” said Jay Stanley, a privacy expert with the American Civil Liberties Union. “The balance struck in our Constitution tilts toward liberty, and I think we should keep that value.” 

Police and private businesses have invested heavily in video surveillance since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Although academics debate whether these cameras create significantly lower crime rates, an overwhelming majority of Americans support them. A Washington Post poll in November found that only 14 percent of those surveyed wanted fewer cameras in public spaces. 

But the latest camera systems raise new issues because of their ability to watch vast areas for long periods of time — something even military-grade aerial cameras have struggled to do well. 

The military’s most advanced experimental research lab is developing a system that uses hundreds of cellphone cameras to watch 36-square-mile areas. McNutt offers his system — which uses 12 commercially available Canon cameras mounted in an array — as an effective alternative that’s cheap enough for local police departments to afford. He typically charges between $1,500 and $2,000 per hour for his services, including flight time, operation of the command center and the time that analysts spend assisting investigations. 

Dayton police were enticed by McNutt’s offer to fly 200 hours over the city for a home-town discount price of $120,000. The city, with about 140,000 people, saw its police force dwindle from more than 400 officers to about 350 in recent years, and there is little hope of reinforcements. 

“We’re not going to get those officers back,” Biehl, the police chief, said. “We have had to use technology as force multipliers.” 

Still, the proposed contract, coming during Dayton’s campaign season and amid a wave of revelations about National Security Agency surveillance, sparked resistance. Biehl is looking for a chance to revive the matter. But the new mayor, Nan Whaley, has reservations, both because of the cost and the potential loss of privacy. 

“Since 2001, we haven’t had really healthy conversations about personal liberty. It’s starting to bloom about a decade too late,” Whaley said. “I think the conversation needs to continue.” 

To that end, the mayor has another idea: She’s encouraging the businesses that own Dayton’s tallest buildings to mount rooftop surveillance cameras capable of continuously monitoring the downtown and nearby neighborhoods. Whaley hopes the businesses would provide the video feeds to the police. 

McNutt, it turns out, has cameras for those situations, too, capable of spotting individual people from seven miles away.