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Crowds attack Turkish-owned factory in Ethiopia as protests rage
October 5, 2016 / 12:36 PM / a year ago

Crowds attack Turkish-owned factory in Ethiopia as protests rage

* Protesters say their land seized to build factories

* Government wants to industrialise agrarian nation

* Demonstrations have broadened to political complaints

By Aaron Maasho

ADDIS ABABA, Oct 5 (Reuters) - Crowds attacked and partially destroyed an Ethiopian factory run by Turkish textile firm Saygin Dima, its manager said, as a wave of protests about land and political rights raged on in the Oromiya region near the capital.

The assault on Tuesday wrecked about a third of the plant in Sebeta, general manager Fatih Mehmet Yangin told Reuters, days after a stampede at an anti-government demonstration in the state killed at least 55 people.

Oromiya, south of the capital, has been a focus for industrial development that has fuelled Ethiopia's sturdy economic growth, but locals have protested at what they say are seizures of their land to build factories and housing blocks.

The death toll from a wave of unrest and clashes between police and demonstrators over the past year or more runs into several hundred, according to opposition estimates. The government says such figures are inflated.

"A large crowd attacked the factory," burning the weaving section and three vehicles, said Yangin.

The plant, which employs about 1,000 people about 35 km southwest of Addis Ababa, opened in 2012 and exports yarn and fabric - one of the sectors Ethiopia is seeking to develop.

LAND AND POLITICS

The attack on a factory will cast a shadow over Ethiopia's ambitions to draw in more investment to industrialise a nation where most people still rely on subsistence farming, and have been struggling with a severe drought in the past two years.

To draw in business, the government has been building new infrastructure, including an electrified railway connecting the capital of the landlocked nation with a port in neighbouring Djibouti, which was inaugurated on Wednesday.

At least seven foreign-owned flower farms in Ethiopia's Amhara region, another area where protests have flared, were burnt to the ground or partially damaged in the political violence at the start of September.

Protests in Oromiya and other regions have increasingly turned to broader political complaints, in a country where rights groups and opposition figures accuse the government of stamping on political freedoms, a charge officials deny.

The opposition failed to secure a single seat in a parliamentary election in 2015, down from just one seat in the previous assembly.

The Committee for the Protection of Journalists called for on Tuesday for the authorities to free Seyoum Teshoume, the latest case of a blogger who is critical of the government being detained. Seyoum writes for the website Ethiothinktank.com.

Officials could not immediately be reached for comment, but the government says it only detains people who threaten national security and says it guarantees free speech. (Additional reporting by Asli Kandemir in Istanbul; Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

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