OROMIA, Ethiopia, Oct. 2 (UPI) -- As many as 100 people are believed to have drowned or been crushed to death in Ethiopia's Oromia region after security forces faced off with protesters, causing a deadly stampede, witnesses said.
Some died and many others were injured during the panicked stampede that occurred after police threw tear gas, shot rubber bullets and beat people with batons, BBC reported.
Thousands of people were gathered for the religious festival in Bishoftu, about 25 miles from the capital Addis Ababa when police responded to the anti-government protesters throwing stones and bottles, while other demonstrators remained peaceful.
"Lives were lost," Ethiopia's government said in a statement. "Those responsible will face justice."
One Oromo activist, Jawar Mohamed, said nearly 300 people were killed when troops and a helicopter gunship opened fire, driving people off a cliff and into a lake. That account has not been confirmed.
"Around 100 people died and some people are saying there are also a lot of people buried under water," Fedesa Mengesha, a doctor, said on Sunday from Bishoftu. "We are expecting more." Of about 50 bodies Mengesha examined, he said, none died from bullets, Bloomberg reported.
Security forces in Ethiopia have killed about 600 Oromo since November when protests against the government began, according to the Association for Human Rights in Ethiopia. The protesters say the Oromo are being marginalized and oppressed due to their ethnicity. They were joined in July by demonstrators from Ethiopia's second-most populous region, Amhara.
The government has confirmed only 52 deaths so far, spokesman Getachew Reda said by phone from Addis Ababa Sunday.