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50 Ethiopians Killed in Stampede After Confrontation with Police

Protesters run from tear gas being fired by police during Irreecha, the thanks giving festival of the Oromo people in Bishoftu town of Oromia region, Ethiopia, Oct. 2, 2016.

Several dozen people were killed in Ethiopia’s Oromiya region when police fired teargas and warning shots to disperse anti-government protesters at a religious festival.

The tear gas caused panic and triggered a stampede Sunday that killed at least 50 people.

Without giving a specific death toll, the government confirmed several people died and others were injured in chaotic scenes during the annual festival, in which the Oromo community marks the end of the rainy season.

Several thousand people had gathered at Lake Harsadi for the annual Irreecha festival of thanksgiving in the town of Bishoftu, about 40 kilometers south of Addis Ababa. Some people from the crowd chanted "We need freedom" and "We need justice" and waved a rebel group's flag.

Sporadic protests have erupted in Oromiya in the past two years, initially sparked by a land dispute.

Since late 2015 scores of protesters have been killed in clashes with police.

Tensions in the country has increased, despite a steady economic growth rate that government has delivered, but it has faced criticism from opponents and rights group that it has trampled on political freedoms.