Wolonkomi, Ethiopia – Six-year-old Abi Turi and her nine-year-old brother Dereje have not been attending classes in Wolonkomi. Their school was closed in January as the Ethiopian government began what its critics call a crackdown on protests by the Oromo, the country’s largest ethnic group.

It is uncertain how many people have died in clashes between security forces and protesters since November, when a series of demonstrations began. Local estimates put the figure at between 80 and above 200. The New York-based Human Rights Watch has said that more than 200 people may have died in about six months, a figure the government denies.

“With regards to allegations from human rights groups or self-styled human rights protectors, the numbers they come with, the stories they often paint, are mostly plucked out thin air,” Getachew Reda, the information minister, told Al Jazeera.

Abi and Dereje’s mother was among those shot in January. She was hit by a bullet in the neck. Despite receiving medical treatment, she died of her wounds in March.

“The little girl cries and keeps asking where her mother is. We feel her pain,” said the children’s grandfather Kena Turi, a farmer. “The older one cried when his mother was shot and died, but now it seems he understands she’s gone.”

Oromo students began rallying to protest against a government plan they said was intended to expand the boundaries of Addis Ababa, the capital, into Oromia’s farmland.

Protests continue

Oromia is the country’s largest region, and many there believe the government did not want to redevelop services and roads, but that it was engaged in a landgrab. Though the government shelved its “Integrated Development Master Plan” due to the tension, protests continued as the Oromo called for equal rights.

In February, another anti-government rally turned violent. Nagase Arasa, 15, and her eight-year-old brother Elias say they were shot in their legs while a demonstration happened near their home.

 

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