Oromo students protested against a government plan to expand Addis Ababa [Jawar Mohammed/Al Jazeera]
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia – Aslan Hasan, a student belonging to the Oromo ethnic group in Ethiopia, was called either a guilt-ridden terrorist who committed suicide or an innocent victim of brutal state repression, depending on who you listen to.
His death came following a bout of violence in May, when Oromo students in several towns protested against a government plan for the capital Addis Ababa to expand into Oromia Regional State, Ethiopia’s largest and most populous federal region with around one-third of the nation’s over 90 million people.

Security services said Hasan hanged himself in his cell after being arrested for a grenade attackthat occurred at Haramaya University in the east of the country. Online Oromo activists such as Jawar Mohammed say Aslan, 24, had his throat slit by police on June 1 while in custody after being snatched four days before. A witness said it appeared his neck had been cut and his eyes gouged out.
Ethiopia’s government is frequently accused oftrampling on constitutionally protected ethnic rights as it prioritises security, political stability, and public infrastructure investments to drive growth. While technocrats have devised a rational scheme to manage a bulging city, the red-hot political issue of Oromo rights was barely considered, according to an Addis Ababa University academic who wishes to remain anonymous. “They think something is good, they go for it,” he said about the ruling coalition’s top-down methods. “It’s a done deal, it’s not consultative at all.”

Jawar and other Oromos – including normally acquiescent Oromo members of the ruling political group – say the “integrated master plan” is an annexation of their territory that will weaken the ethnicity politically and also lead to the eviction of Oromo farmers from their land on the periphery of Addis Ababa. Oromos claim the capital city, which they call Finfinne, as their own, and in 2004 protested against the government’s attempt to change their capital to Adama.

Deadly protests 

The most serious unrest in May took place in the western town of Ambo and involved a student protest-turned-riot, with buildings damaged, cars torched, and civilians shot dead by security forces. At Haramaya, a grenade was chucked at students watching a televised football match. Officials blamed Oromo separatists; activists pointed a finger at agent provocateurs from the regime. In the southeast of Oromia, grainy video purports to show security forces firing on students around Madawalabu University at Robe. An independent assessment estimated as many as 50 people died.

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