Thousand pf protesters took to the streets in Ethiopian cities, demanding Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed do more to tackle simmering ethnic violence following the kidnapping of university students.
Armed men abducted students from Dembi Dollo University in the Oromiya region in December, according to survivors who escaped. Government said the army rescued 21 students, but at least 12 are still missing.
While the kidnappers’ identity or motive is not clear, the incident revived fears about ethnic violence ahead of this year’s election and intensified pressure on Nobel Peace Laureate Abiy, an Oromo.
Many students were Amhara, a group that previously clashed with Oromos.
In the past six months, campus clashes killed 12 students and played a role in the decision of 35 000 to drop out , according to the higher education ministry.
Anger about the kidnapping focused on Abiy, who won the Nobel Peace Prize and oversaw political reforms since coming to power in 2018.
He has been unable to stamp out ethnic violence in Africa’s second-most populous nation, including among his Oromo group.
Families of the missing students met the prime minister and other senior government officials last week, receiving assurances their relatives were safe. No further information about whereabouts or plans to rescue them was divulged.
“We were told by officials they are alive,” said Yeneneh Adugna, a local priest and a farmer from Gondar, whose 23-year-old daughter Germanesh Yeneneh, a third-year biotechnology student, is missing.
“The last phone call I had with her was two weeks after her abduction,” Yeneneh said. “She told me not to worry.”
Several thousand took part in marches in cities to demand their release and activists made #BringBackOurStudents trend.
Another protest was planned for Gondor, capital of Amhara, on Sunday, families said.
Belay Abebe, father to a second-year journalism student, said his daughter called him after she was abducted and said she was safe.
“We demanded to talk to the students on the phone,” another relative told Reuters, asking for anonymity for fear of possible reprisals. “There was no willingness from officials to let us speak with the students.”
Endeshaw Tasew, general commissioner of federal police, said government knows where the students are but declined to give details.