The city of Hawassa in the south of Ethiopia came to a halt as shops were closed and roads blocked with burning tires, following security forces preventing a meeting of activists from the Sidama ethnic group on Thursday seeking to establish a breakaway region from taking place.
Political activists from the group stated that they would declare independence and cede from the rest of Ethiopia, the day on which Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed was due to decide on whether a referendum on the issue would proceed.
Protestors wearing traditional red, white and yellow banded Sidama scarves and hats marched to the venue of a planned meeting of elders and youth.
However, the activists were blocked by security forces from reaching the meeting venue. Mobile data was also blocked to prevent communication.
When Ahmed came to power in 2018, he promised a raft of reforms and under the country’s constitution a decision on whether or not to hold the referendum was meant to be made a year after a request for such.
Ethiopia’s federal system in Africa’s second most populous country is designed to allow larger ethnic groups a degree of autonomy. But the Sidama, who comprise five percent of Ethiopia’s 105 million people, complain of being sidelined.