At least 17 people have been killed in southern Ethiopia during protests that followed the weekend arrests of local officials, the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission confirmed Thursday. The dead include children.
Security forces met the protests with force after the arrests of Wolaita zone officials, the rights commission said. It expressed ``deep concern over persistent violence and use of excessive force'' against protesters.
Local activists told The Associated Press they believed the death toll was even higher, with at least 34 people killed and more than 100 injured, almost all with gunshot wounds.
This is the latest unrest to challenge the political reforms of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed as various communities seek greater autonomy in a country with more than 80 ethnic groups.
``There were also mass arrests of youths who tried to protest following the arrests of local officials and the killing of civilians. Sodo and Boditi towns have witnessed some of the worst violence in years,'' said one activist who spoke on condition of anonymity, fearing for his safety.
Wolaita zone officials have long sought regional statehood, a proposal which they say has not been entertained properly by regional officials. They have said they would unilaterally declare the formation of a new regional state if their request was not addressed.
Officials have accused them of attempting to destabilize the region by chaotic and unlawful means.
The officials are now suspected of ``attempting to derail the constitutional order of the country.``
On Thursday afternoon, a court granted bail for the arrested officials, and several thousand jubilant people went into the streets to express their joy.