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Ethiopia Announces Arrests for Murder of Prominent Singers

NAIROBI, Kenya – Ethiopia has reported that two men have been arrested in connection with the murder of a well-known musician and activist, Hachalu Hundessa, the death of which resulted in riots last month that killed hundreds.

Attorney General Adanech Abebe announced the arrests in a televised statement on Friday evening, saying that a third suspect in the Hundessa shootout was still on the run. “We will continue to uphold the rule of law,” said Ms. Abebe.

She said the two arrested men confessed to killing Mr. Hundessa on the orders of an armed fragmentation wing of the Oromo Liberation Front, an opposition group, with the aim of stimulating ethnic tensions and overthrowing the government. It provided no evidence to support the allegation, and the Oromo Liberation Front had yet to respond to the allegation by Saturday morning.

The 34-year-old Hundessa was shot dead on June 29 in a suburb of the capital Addis Ababa. He was taken to a hospital, but died of his wounds.

The singer and activist was a member of Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group, the Oromo, which, despite their number, has long been marginalized. His resistance songs made him a hero for a generation of young people who fought for political and economic change.

After his death there were violent protests in Addis Ababa and the neighboring region of Oromia. Officials said at least 239 people were killed in the riots, where buildings were burned down and groups of young men carried out ethnically motivated attacks.

The government blocked the Internet and arrested nearly 5,000 people, including activists, journalists and a prominent government critic, Jawar Mohammed. Tensions also escalated when the police prevented mourners from attending Mr. Hundessa’s funeral in his hometown of Ambo, 60 miles west of the capital.

The violence posed a challenge to Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who oversees Ethiopia’s delicate transition from authoritarian rule to multi-party democracy.

Mr. Hundessa’s music provided a soundtrack to a wave of protests against the government that began in 2015 and eventually led to the resignation of Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn and the rise of Mr. Abiy, an Oromo.

Since taking office in 2018, Mr. Abiy has made extensive political, economic and social revisions, including amnesty for political prisoners and the legalization of banned opposition groups. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize last year for such measures and for the resumption of peace talks with neighboring Eritrea.

But the changes brought about by Mr. Abiy have also lifted the serious challenges for his government. He was criticized by members of the Oromo community who said he had not done enough to alleviate their problems.

Mr. Abiy recently said that those who killed Mr. Hundessa wanted to cause unrest and affect progress in Ethiopia, Africa’s second largest nation after Nigeria.

Leaders and officials around the world have called on Ethiopia not to use excessive force to deal with the recent protests. The United Nations Human Rights Office said it was “deeply concerned” about the violence, while African Union President Moussa Faki Mahamat called on all sides to exercise restraint.

Last week, hundreds of Oromo residents in Minnesota gathered in St. Paul to condemn Mr. Hundessa’s murder. Representative Ilhan Omar said on Twitter that she would “do everything in my power to ensure that the United States helps bring justice to the murder of Hachalu Hundessa.”

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