Reuters International

By Aaron Maasho

ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - Ethiopian security forces used tear gas and blocked roads in the capital Addis Ababa and other major towns on Saturday to try to quell protests against alleged rights abuses, a Reuters witness and residents said.

The Horn of Africa country's Oromiya region has seen months of demonstrations over plans to incorporate some of its territory into the capital as part of an expansion scheme.

The plans were scrapped after intense resistance from residents, but protesters are continuing to demonstrate against alleged abuses and for the release of people arrested during the campaign.

In Addis Ababa hundreds of people holding placards gathered at Meskel Square in the centre of the city before police dispersed them, a Reuters witness said.

Protests also took place in the towns of Ambo and Woliso in Oromiya, where large crowds gathered early on Saturday before soldiers blockaded roads and began to shoot in the air, witnesses said.

"We have rights but they are consistently violated by this government," one protester told Reuters by phone from Ambo.

"They jail everyone who opposes them. All prisoners should be released."

A witness told Reuters that one demonstrator was shot in Ambo as police tried to quell the unrest.

A student at Ambo University said hundreds of people marched to the town's centre waving opposition flags and chanting anti-government slogans, before police and soldiers dispersed the crowd by firing in the air and using tear gas.

In a statement Ethiopia's information ministry said the country would not tolerate "forces that threaten the country's hard-earned peace and development gains" and added that the government stood ready "to discharge its responsibility."

A 25-year development plan by the Ethiopian government, aimed at attracting investment to help industrialize its agrarian economy, first sparked small protests in 2014.

But when it emerged in mid-November last year that land was to be leased near Ginchi, a town in Oromiya, bigger protests erupted.

On Saturday many residents in Addis Ababa and other towns also reported being unable to use the internet although it was unclear if authorities had blocked online access.

On Friday two protesters died in clashes with police in the ancient city of Gonder as anger mounted over the status of a disputed stretch of land.

(Writing by Elias Biryabarema; Editing by Andrew Bolton)

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