July 2, 2020 / 10:34 AM / a month ago

Police fire in air to keep crowds from Ethiopian singer's funeral

ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - Ethiopian police fired in the air on Thursday to prevent mourners entering a stadium for the funeral of singer Haacaaluu Hundeessaa, whose killing earlier this week sparked two days of protests that killed more than 80 people, residents said.

Ethiopian musician Haacaaluu Hundeessaa poses while dressed in a traditional costume during the 123rd anniversary celebration of the battle of Adwa, where Ethiopian forces defeated invading Italian forces, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, March 2, 2019. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri/File Photo

Members of the military, federal police and regional police were out in force, and two residents said police were firing in the air to deter mourners from entering the stadium in the town of Ambo.

A live broadcast showed sparse numbers of people seated inside. One resident said large crowds had been turned away by police.

The slain singer’s wife, Santu Demisew Diro, gave a short speech after mourners laid wreaths.

“Haacaaluu is not dead. He will remain in my heart and the hears of millions of Oromo people forever,” she said, referring to Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group. “I request a monument erected in his memory in Addis where his blood was spilt.”

The popular Ethiopian singer was shot dead in the capital Addis Ababa on Monday by unknown gunmen and will be laid to rest later at a church in his home town of Ambo, about 100 km (60 miles) west of Addis.

“It is very sad that his body is accompanied by only a few people and security forces are keeping many others away,” one of Haacaaluu’s relatives, who had been allowed to attend the funeral, told Reuters.

One Ambo resident told Reuters he was determined to attend the service because the electricity had gone out in his house so he could not watch it on television.

“He is our hero, we have to pay him our respects,” said lab technician Mamush Dabala by phone as he got ready to go out. He could hear gunshots outside, but said he was going anyway.

Haacaaluu’s songs provided a soundtrack to a generation of Oromo protesters whose three years of anti-government demonstrations finally forced the unprecedented resignation of the prime minister in 2018 and the appointment of the Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.

The Oromo have long complained of exclusion from political power. In recent months, some Oromo activists who initially supported Abiy have become more critical, accusing him of not protecting the interests of the Oromo people.

The singer’s killing sparked protests in the capital and surrounding Oromiya region that have killed more than 80 people so far. [nL8N2E81V1] [nL8N2E73QM]

On Wednesday, Haacaaluu’s uncle was killed during a scuffle between police and a crowed outside the singer’s house, the regional police commissioner told state media.

The singer’s death has reverberated across the Ethiopian diaspora. The governor of the U.S. state of Minnesota, which hosts a large number of Oromo people, tweeted his condolences.

“Hachalu Hundessa showed that music could change hearts and minds across the world,” said Minnesota Governor Tim Walz, using an alternative spelling of the singer’s name.

Writing by Katharine Houreld; Editing by Giles Elgood

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