Written by Staff Writer
Thousands of Ethiopians have fled the eastern city of Mekelle after clashes between Ethiopian government troops and anti-government protesters left over 100 people dead and much of the city burned to the ground.
“It’s a total tragedy,” Senu Alfred, an Ethiopian journalist and activist working with Free Expression, told CNN in a telephone interview, explaining that with many roads around Mekelle closed due to the clashes, few civilians or journalists were able to reach the city in time to find out what was happening.
Senu Alfred | CNN
“We are still in touch with the people who are there, and they are saying that they don’t know what happened,” he said. “There is an arrest campaign going on and lots of houses have been burned down. Everyone has fled.”
Some 10,000 people have fled the city and nearby towns, including Mekelle Airport, Senu Alfred said.
Local residents fled to the bush after “kicking” security forces from their homes, as they had been doing in the neighboring town of Sanneh after security forces used live rounds to disperse protesters, he said. The unrest started on Friday in a province with large ethnic Mekelle populations.
The Ethiopian government says it has sent in security forces to quell violence.
“We are saddened by the situation in the eastern province. The government, (with) the full support of the military, has been called in to restore order and protect lives and property,” Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said in a statement issued Tuesday, saying the federal government was determined to protect the people.
The full statement
According to reports, police in Mekelle clashed with residents over social media platforms. A small protest was reportedly reported in the city before the violence spread, but reports suggest there are more than 100 people killed and many more injured.
CNN could not reach local officials for comment.
A video posted on social media network Facebook showed people in Mekelle screaming in pain while being transported to a hospital. At least 30 Ethiopian soldiers were seen on the roof of a building, shooting machine guns.
Senu Alfred | CNN
Anti-government protests have swept across Ethiopia for months, sparked by one of the government’s first moves to make major reforms.
This was announced in a sweeping speech from Ethiopia’s prime minister, who had been leading the country from the outskirts of Addis Ababa. The reforms included mass sacking of government officials and reforms of economic policies that had kept in place decades of restrictions on the press.