A heavy police presence formed outside the Belmead Community league in west Edmonton Saturday afternoon when about 100 protesters gathered to rally against the Ethiopian government.

Protesters told CBC News that representatives from the Ethiopian government were meeting inside the community league's building to discuss selling bonds for a hydroelectric dam project on the Blue Nile River in Ethiopia.

Several people involved in the protest said their goal in rallying at the building was to disrupt the meeting.

A spokesperson for the Edmonton police confirmed 40 to 60 people – the group the protesters hoped to reach – were inside the building.

However, people involved in the meeting told CBC News they are not affiliated with the Ethiopian government.

Although the protesters did have a permit to rally, nearly a dozen police and emergency vehicles were called in when the situation began to escalate and an officer in distress signal was called.

CBC’s Matthew Kupfer reported seeing eight or nine uniformed police officers form a line between the protesters and the building to ensure the two groups were kept separate.

Rally against Ethiopian government

When asked about their motivation behind the rally, protesters expressed frustration with the Ethiopian government, calling it a dictatorship that jails and kills its own citizens.

"There is no democracy. There is no human rights. There is no voice. They kill you be because of your opinion – because of what you speak," said said protest organizer Mohammed Fatobadso.


Mohammed Fatobadso was one of the organizers behind Saturday's protest. (CBC)

"The Ethiopian government is a government that kills its own people, arrests its own people without judgment," he added. "We are demonstrating because of that. Let our people [be] free."

Many in the crowd were waving flags and holding placards calling for justice and freedom in Ethiopia, where many say they still have friends and family.

Saturday’s tense situation ended when an ETS bus arrived to transport the people from inside the building to another location.

Officers wearing tactical gear helped escort them into the bus while protesters looked on, some taunting and jeering.

Despite the quick escalation of police involvement, Fatobadso said today’s event was intended to be a peaceful rally, adding that the police and protesters simply didn’t understand each other.

Charges are now pending against one of the protesters involved in the day's rally.

A similar protest took place last month in Calgary when the Ethiopian Consul General gave a presentation at the downtown Ramada Hotel about the dam development project.

Police were called in during that instance as a precaution after a verbal clash between two factions of protesters.