The Ethiopian government painted a grim picture of a country under siege by foreign-backed gangs as it justified its newly announced six-month-long state of emergency Monday.
The measure, announced Sunday, comes as mobs have attacked foreign-owned businesses and an American was killed during unrest that exploded after a stampede last week at a cultural festival killed dozens.
Government spokesman Getachew Reda told journalists that the past week of violence, in which dozens more have died, was the work of foreign-funded gangs and required more intense security measures to tackle.
“You have motorbike gangs now carrying petrol bombs, carrying firearms in groups of 10 going from place to place, terrorizing the public,” Reda said Monday. “The kind of threats we are facing, targeting infrastructure, targeting civilians, cannot be handled through ordinary law enforcement procedures.”
Last week, protesters damaged around a dozen factories and equipment mostly belonging to foreign firms, accused by the demonstrators of buying property leases on their seized land.
Security forces, however, already have been implicated in the deaths of hundreds of people in the past year in anti-government protests.
The protests began in November in the Oromia region, which surrounds the capital. People there complain of a corrupt local administration and illegal confiscation of land to set up multinational factories.
Many people from Oromiya, a region at the heart of Ethiopia's industrialization drive, accuse the state of seizing their land and offering meager compensation before selling it on to companies, often foreign investors, at inflated prices.
The unrest has since spread to the Amhara region, Ethiopia’s cultural heartland, and now there is turmoil in the southern provinces as well.
The Oromo people, who make up at least a third of the population, have long complained of economic and political marginalization. When protests erupted during a huge cultural festival in Oromia on Oct. 2, police fired tear gas, causing a stampede that killed at least 55 people — although the opposition estimates that the toll is at least 10 times that.
Recently, Dozens of people died at a festival after security forces fired tear gas into a crowd during a political protest and provoked a stampede.