Ethiopian federal authorities temporarily took over security in a region where at least 17 people died in clashes between security forces and activists seeking a new autonomous enclave for the Sidama community, a broadcaster reported.
On Saturday, a local district official told Reuters at least 13 people were killed in a town near Hawassa city, while hospital authorities said on Friday four protesters died of gunshot wounds in the city.
State-affiliated Fana Broadcasting said the Federal Security Council decided to put security in the Hawassa city administration and some districts of the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples’ (SNNP) region under a temporary federal security force-led command post.
It said the SNNP regional state requested help from federal government and the decision would took effect on Tuesday. Hawassa is capital of the state but some Sidama – the largest group in the region – want it as capital of their own new entity.
The threat of large-scale violence in Hawassa was largely averted after a Sidama opposition party agreed to delay declaring an own region and accept a government offer for a referendum in five months.
The Sidama threat to unilaterally declare a new region posed a direct challenge to the authority of the federal government that oversees nine regions in the Horn of Africa country of 105 million people.
Regional states in multi-ethnic Ethiopia are able to choose their official working language and enjoy limited powers over tax, education, health and land administration.
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed won praise for political reforms in what was once one of the continent’s most repressive nations.
Many Ethiopian activists are now using their greater freedoms to demand more rights, sometimes for their own ethnic groups. At least eight other groups beside the Sidama want their own regions.