(OPride) ― The 2017 annual Irreecha festival in Ethiopia’s Oromia state is underway in Bishoftu, a resort town 37 miles southeast of the capital, Addis Ababa. A year ago, on October 2, 2016, security forces unleashed tear gas on peaceful protesters in a confined space, triggering a chaotic dash for the narrow exits, which left hundreds crashed to death inside deep ditches. It became a turning point for then-year old anti-government #OromoProtests forcing the regime in Addis Ababa to declare a nationwide 10-month-long state of emergency.
This year’s Irreecha is expected to be the biggest yet in terms of attendance. Tens of thousands from across Oromia started arriving in Bishoftu days in advance for Sunday’s gathering. But tensions remain high.
This year’s festival is being managed by the traditional Oromo Gadaa leaders. As per an agreement with the Oromia regional government, no armed security forces are allowed near the site of Irreecha. Instead, unarmed Oromia police and youth appointed by the Gadaa leaders will protect festival goers and ensure orderly celebration.
However, a statement from the federal government yesterday implied that federal police and the military will be deployed to perform searches at checkpoints on the perimeters of Irrechaa. Festival goers report long lines at various road checkpoints leading into Bishoftu. This has raised concerns about a possibility of provocation. Oromia officials insist that its police, the Oromo public, and youth members selected for securing the Irreecha site are ready for the task. It is urging all parties, including the federal government, to honor the agreement made with Gadaa leaders.
This is a LIVE blog. We will continuously update this post through Sunday afternoon with images, analysis, and reports from Bishoftu and around the world.