Security forces in Ethiopia’s eastern Somali region shot dead four people protesting against looting of shops and homes in weekend unrest, a witness said.
Violence broke out in provincial capital Jijiga on Saturday, with mobs looting properties owned by ethnic minorities, in unrest government said was stoked by regional officials at odds with central authorities.
The attacks forced thousands to seek refuge in an Ethiopian Orthodox church, residents told Reuters. On Monday, some staged a protest.
“They blocked a road surrounding the church to demonstrate, before security forces arrived and began firing indiscriminately,” a resident told Reuters.
The witness, who declined to be named, said he saw four bodies after the crowd dispersed. Gunfire rang out throughout the day.
At least two Ethiopian Orthodox churches were also burned down over the weekend, other residents told Reuters.
Amid the violence, region president Abdi Mohammed Omer stepped down on Monday, state-owned media outlets said. The agencies did not offer any explanation for his resignation.
Earlier government spokesman Ahmed Shide said regional officials were stoking violence when attempts were underway to address rights abuses in the region.
He said officials claimed government was illegally forcing them to resign and a regional paramilitary force took part in the attacks under their orders.
“Infrastructure was destroyed and civilians were subjected to killings and looting. Religious centres were also attacked and banks looted,” he said at a news conference.
“These acts were carried out by gangs of youths organised by some of the region’s leadership.”
Witnesses told Reuters soldiers were deployed as early as Friday. Ahmed said orders were given only on Monday and they would soon “start operations” to restore calm.
The Somali region has seen sporadic violence for three decades. Government fought the rebel Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) since 1984 after the group launched a bid for secession of the province, also known as Ogaden.
Since 2017, clashes along its border with Oromiya province displaced tens of thousands.
In July, regional officials were accused by government of perpetrating rights abuses. Last month, authorities fired senior prison officials over allegations of torture.
The unrest in the province marks a test for new Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who pledged transparency and a crackdown on abuses by security services.