Bahir Dar, Ethiopia, is the capital of the Amhara Region with a population of 221,991, according to the Central Statistical Agency in 2007. Amnesty International reported at least 97 people died in protests on Saturday and Sunday. File photo by ZeGhion/Wikimedia Commons
ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia, Aug. 8 (UPI) -- Ethiopian security forces fired on protesters over the weekend, killing at least 97 people, according to Amnesty International.
Several thousand people protested in the Oromia and Amhara regions, alleging unfair distribution of wealth in Ethiopia.
Amnesty International said at least 97 people died and hundreds were injured when they were fired on by police.
"The security forces' response was heavy-handed, but unsurprising," said Michelle Kagari, Amnesty International's deputy regional director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes. "Ethiopian forces have systematically used excessive force in their mistaken attempts to silence dissenting voices.
"These crimes must be promptly, impartially and effectively investigated and all those suspected of criminal responsibility must be brought to justice in fair trials before ordinary civilian courts without recourse to death penalty."
Amnesty International said police fired live bullets at protesters in the Amhara Region's Bahir Dar on Sunday, killing at least 30. In the region's Gondar, seven died Saturday. And dozens were killed in Oromia, Amnesty International said.
Hundreds were arrested in Oromia and Amhara, and are being held at unofficial detention centers that include police and military training bases.
Two officials with the Oromo Federalist Congress Party confirmed the number of deaths in Bahir Day, Voice of America reported. Party Vice President Mulatu Gemechu told VOA's Horn of Africa Service that the deaths were spread across 12 areas.
A spokesperson for the Amhara regional government, Negussu Tilahun, confirmed seven people were killed in Gondor.
Two more people died in the town of Sharwa in the Amahra region, and protests also took place Saturday in Meskel Square, in the heart of Addis Ababa, though no deaths were reported, according to Voice of America.
The government shut down access to social media late Friday.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn had warned people not to protest.
"We don't know who takes ownership or is behind these protests, and sometimes they are organized by outside anti-peace forces with aims to destabilize this country and are organized through Facebook messages," he said. "These things don't have owners, and they are illegal. Therefore, participating in illegal protests clashes with and goes against our country's constitution."
Some protesters were carrying lethal weapons, including explosives, the government communications office said. But opposition leaders said the protesters were peaceful and unarmed.
The two ethnic groups in Oromo and Amharas make up the majority of Ethiopia's population. They believe the government favors ethnic Tigrayans with key government jobs and security positions.