A crowd of 1,500 people calling for human rights and democracy in Ethiopia walked onto Interstate Hwy. 35W in downtown Minneapolis on Friday evening to protest that nation’s treatment of the Oromo people, shutting down the roadway for more than an hour.
The peaceful protest featured mostly people from Minnesota’s Oromo community. The Oromo, the largest ethnic group in Ethiopia, are engaged in a violent standoff with government leaders over elections, self-rule and their country’s future. Oromo Minnesotans have held a number of protests in the past few years, but this was the first time they blocked a freeway.
The June 29 killing of a popular Oromo singer and activist, Hachalu Hundessa, has sparked riots and protests in Oromo communities worldwide. And the arrest of Jawar Mohammed, a prominent opposition politician who at one time was living in exile in Minnesota, drew the local Oromo community to the protest Friday, said a local Oromo woman.
“The Oromo people want elections, they want the freedom to choose who are the leaders of their country,” said Zemu Tuke of Minneapolis, who was among the hundreds of people marching on I-35W on Friday.
The government has imprisoned about 1,500 people in response to the protests, and some 240 people have died in confrontations with government soldiers, according to media reports.
The Oromo diaspora has staged protests in cities across the United States since Hundessa’s killing.
The demonstrators cleared the freeway by 5:50 p.m., but Minnesota State Patrol officers pulled over two cars following the marchers, issued tickets to the drivers and impounded their vehicles. The freeway was reopened by 6:25 p.m.
Minnesota is home to the largest U.S. diaspora of Oromo. U.S. census data puts the number of Ethiopian natives in the state at about 18,000, but local leaders have said more than 30,000 live in the state.