Ethiopians protest outside Saudi embassy in Addis Ababa
ADDIS ABABA - Scores of Ethiopians gathered outside the Saudi Arabian embassy in Addis Ababa Friday to protest over a crackdown against illegal immigrants in the oil-rich state that officials say has left three Ethiopians dead.
The protest, organised by an opposition group, was quickly broken up by police and activists said up to 100 people were arrested.
According to the Ethiopian government, three Ethiopians were killed last week in Saudi Arabia in clashes with police. Saudi authorities are in the process of repatriating at least 23,000 illegal immigrants from Ethiopia.
"The police came and they beat us... and now more than 100 people are at the police station," said Getaneh Balcha, senior member of the opposition Blue Party movement, adding the party chairman and vice chairman were among those held.
The government said protesters did not have a permit to demonstrate and confirmed that arrests had been made, but did not say how many.
"It was an illegal demonstration, they had not got a permit from the appropriate office," government spokesman Shimeles Kemal said, adding charges could be laid against the organisers.
"They were fomenting anti-Arab sentiments here among Ethiopians... the demonstration itself was illicit, so the police took measures and apprehended some," he said.
Getaneh said the protest was organised to send a strong message "to tell the Saudi government to stop violating the rights of our citizens."
Protesters at the gathering also carried signs calling for the boycott and closure of Saudi businesses in Ethiopia.
Large numbers of Ethiopians travel to the Middle East every year seeking work.
Ethiopia's Blue Party has staged a series of anti-government protests in recent months, calling for the release of journalists and politicians jailed under a controversial anti-terrorism law.
Rights groups have accused the Ethiopian government of using the anti-terror legislation to stifle peaceful dissent.