Ethiopian community rallies in Calgary to protest police crackdowns in Oromia region

About 100 people gathered in front of MP Kent Hehr's office Friday morning to protest police crackdowns in Ethiopia over plans to requisition farmland in the African country.

'They're leaving farmers without anywhere to go'

Members of Calgary's Oromo community rallied in front of MP Kent Hehr's office on Friday. (Colin Hall/CBC)

About 100 people rallied in front of Calgary MP Kent Hehr's office Friday morning to protest police crackdowns in Ethiopia over plans to requisition farmland in the African country. 

It was to support dozens of university students who protested in Ethiopia's capital on Tuesday, demanding an end to police crackdowns that followed months of demonstrations over plans to requisition farmland in the country's Oromia region late last year.

Protesters held signs and waved flags outside of Hehr's Calgary office. (Colin Hall/CBC)

The government wanted to develop farmland around the capital, Addis Ababa, and its plan triggered some of the worst civil unrest for a decade, with rights groups and U.S.-based dissidents saying as many as 200 people may have been killed.

In Calgary, Gilcha Mohammed, the chairman of the Oromo Community Association of Alberta, called on the Canadian government to pressure Ethiopian authorities.

"We're all taxpaying Canadian citizens and we want our government to send a strong message to the Ethiopian government that they can't continue killing and arresting peaceful protestors," said Mohammed, speaking above the shouts of the protesters gathered outside Hehr's Calgary office. 

Protesters were crossing their arms during the rally. (Colin Hall/CBC)

"They are confiscating thousands of hectares of land. There's about 3 million farmers that have been displaced. They're leaving farmers without anywhere to go and that's why we're here."

Protesters in Calgary marched down the street holding Canadian flags and the flag for the Oromia region. 

Ethiopia has long been one of the world's poorest nations but has industrialized rapidly in the past decade and now boasts double-digit growth. However, reallocating land is a thorny issue for Ethiopians, many of whom are subsistence farmers.

Authorities scrapped the land scheme in January, but sporadic demonstrations persist.

This woman lays down in a form of protest. (Colin Hall/CBC)

Mohammed said Canada should use its influence to encourage a peaceful resolution. 

"Canada is a major contributor of foreign aid to Ethiopia and it has a lot of influence over the Ethiopian government," he said. "We just want Canada to put pressure on the Ethiopian government and even cut that aid if necessary."

Mohammed said Hehr's office agreed to meet with the group after the rally.

"We got a good response so far," he said. 

With files from Reuters and the CBC's Colin Hall

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