Hundreds protest in St. Paul against actions of Ethiopian government

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Oromo protest in front of the Saint Paul capital building.

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Hundreds of people marched down John Ireland Boulevard toward the Minnesota Capitol Monday, protesting what they call a dictatorship by the Ethiopian government and human rights violations committed against the Oromo people.

The rally is the third of recent #OromoProtests in St. Paul. The first two in December aimed to raise awareness and demand justice for Oromo students killed in anti-government demonstrations in Ethiopia, according to MPR.

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Who are the Oromo?

 (Photo: ThisIsAfrica.com)

(Photo: ThisIsAfrica.com)

The Oromo people make up the largest ethnic group in Ethiopia, accounting for more than one-third of the population. They are also from Northern Kenya and parts of Somalia, with about 38 million members worldwide.

Many Oromo fled East Africa in the 1970s, 80s and 90s seeking political asylum, the majority of whom came to the Twin Cities in the 1990s. Today, an estimated 40,000 Oromo live in Minnesota – which is the largest Oromo community in the US, and possibly in the world outside of Oromia, says the Oromo Community of Minnesota.

Why are they demonstrating?

The Ethiopian government put out a master plan in April 2014 to expand the capital, Addis Ababa, which would result in the forced eviction of Oromo farmers and the loss of valuable arable land, reports Newsweek.

The Oromo people began protesting, and the Ethiopian government has responded with violent force.

Security forces have shot randomly into crowds, killed people during arrests, carried out mass roundups, tortured detainees and killed over 200 demonstrators for protesting the Addis Ababa Integrated Master Plan, said Human Rights Watch.

"If I was protesting in Ethiopia, you would have been attending my funeral today" read one of the signs at a Minnesota December demonstration, reported MPR.

In January, the Ethiopian government scrapped the expansion plan, yet the Oromo still have grievances against their government and are suffering from systematic oppression.

The regime has shut the Oromo out of top government and industry jobs and detained journalists, the Pioneer Press reports. Amnesty International released a report in October 2014 stating that 5,000 Oromo were jailed by the government over a three-year period for participating, or planning to participate, in protests.

“It’s very clear that in Oromia today there’s massive human rights violations and anyone who expresses dissent against the government – questioning their policies or their plans – inevitably ends up targeted, arrested, sometimes worse,” Human Rights Watch researcher Felix Horne told Newsweek.

Support from Minnesota

This February, Minnesota's U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken and U.S. Reps. Keith Ellison, Betty McCollum and Tom Emmer sent letters to Secretary of State John Kerry (that can be read here and here respectively).

The letters condemn the Ethiopian government's actions and encourage the U.S. to use aid money as leverage to pressure the country into discontinuing human rights abuses.

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