Opposition Wants Prisoners Freed


Fortune, a privately-owned newspaper, reported that there had been 20 casualties, but did not specify whether it meant dead or wounded. It carried a photograph of a huge plume of smoke billowing over a row of buildings, and said the fire had been brought under control by Saturday evening, also reported that the fire had been deliberately started as part of an escape attempt and said that police had now taken control of the facility from prison officers.

Authorities have blamed opposition groups inside and outside of the country and what they have called “anti-peace” elements for the chaos.

An opposition leader in Ethiopia has demanded that “political prisoners” be freed as anti-government protests continued to rage in one of Africa’s most populous countries.

The call was made by Tiruneh Gamta, a leader of the Oromo ethnic group, from which the biggest number of protesters come.

“We want all political prisoners, regardless of any political stand or religion or creed, released from jail. Together with this, we need democratic rights,” Gamta told Al Jazeera.

Al Jazeera interviewed a woman who said she was arrested while on her way to a market. A protest had been taking place close to the market, she said.

After a night in a jail cell, she and 30 other people were ordered onto a bus and told not to look outside, she said. Seven hours later, she said, they arrived at a camp.

“At the camp, they put us in a cell. Then the next day, they ordered us out for what they said was exercise,” the woman, who requested anonymity, told Al Jazeera.

“They beat us as they ordered us to exercise, and when we got tired, they continued to beat us. I tried to do what they said, but I couldn’t, so they beat me more. Even when I was running, they were beating me all over my body.”

Interrogation was carried out regularly to wear the detained down, the woman said.

“Five or six policemen interrogated each one of us every day. They kept threatening us. They said if you give false testimony, we will kill you.”

Protests that started in November among people from the Oromo ethnic group have spread. Demonstrators from the Amhara region have also started to demand greater political and economic rights.