12 Dead in Ethiopia After Protests

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AP) -- Violent weekend clashes between protesters and security forces claimed the lives of more than a dozen people across Ethiopia, while hundreds staged a rare anti-government demonstration in the capital after calls via social media.

The government again blocked the internet over the weekend, alleging that "anti-peace elements" based outside abroad and supported by online activists are to blame for the violence. Demonstrations took place despite the government's warning that it would take measures against unauthorized rallies.

The government announced Sunday that seven protesters died in the northern Amhara region's capital, Bahir Dar, where protesters demanded the reinstatement of the Wolqayit area in the Tigrary region back to the Amhara administration. The arrest of members of a committee set up to oversee the reinstatement led to violent clashes over the past week.

The arrests also ignited weekend demonstrations in the Oromia region, where online activists and witnesses in at least three towns said many casualties occurred.

Protesters in Oromia have demanded the release of people detained in massive demonstrations earlier this year against plans by the capital, Addis Ababa, to expand its territory into adjacent Oromia lands. The proposal has since been retracted.

Witnesses who insisted on speaking to The Associated Press anonymously for fear of reprisals said anti-riot police also used force Saturday to disperse hundreds of protesters in Addis Ababa who used the Oromia and Amhara issues to vent their anger at the government and call for political freedom.

"It has now become clear that people cannot hold peaceful protests in Ethiopia," said Seyoum Teshome, a blogger who monitored the demonstrations. "Regional police forces are being replaced by the army, leaving many areas to be under the military's control."

Ethiopia, a close security ally of the West, is often accused by rights groups of stifling dissent.