Ethiopian security forces opened fire on protesters who were singing anti-government songs, U.N. human rights spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani said on Tuesday.
Authorities said on Monday that at least seven people died in clashes between security forces and worshippers taking part in a religious ceremony marking Epiphany in Amhara region in northern Ethiopia at the weekend, but they had yet to determine the cause of the violence.
Shamdasani told a U.N. briefing in Geneva that the U.N. human rights office was extremely concerned by the deaths.
"The incident, in Woldiya City in Amhara Regional State on 20 January, reportedly took place when the security forces tried to stop people from chanting anti-government songs and allegedly opened fire on them. Protesters reportedly later blocked roads and destroyed a number of properties."
Ethiopian government spokesman Negeri Lencho, reacting to Shamdasani's statement, told journalists on Tuesday that demands by the public should be "raised peacefully." Security forces should exercise restraint and avoid actions that could lead to death and injury, he said.
Shamdasani did not specify the source of the information but said the U.N.'s regional office in Addis Ababa had collected information from several sources, including local media, trusted civil society sources and official statements.
The incident was all the more regrettable as it came just two weeks after Ethiopia's ruling coalition, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front, announced its intention of undertaking reforms, she added.
We understand that the President of Amhara Regional State, who confirmed that there had been deaths and injuries, said there would be what he termed a 'careful examination' of the incident.
She said it should be prompt, independent, impartial and effective and ensure anybody responsible for violating human rights was held accountable.
Reporting by Tom Miles; Additional reporting by Aaron Masho in Addis Ababa; Editing by Richard Balmforth