Three months after tensions boiled over at an Eritrean cultural gathering in Alberta’s capital, dozens of members of that community held a rally at Edmonton’s Sir Winston Churchill Square to call on the city to do more in response to what happened.
“An investigation must be done,” said Kahsay Gebreysesus, one of many people who attended the rally with many waving signs and Eritrean flags.
“Perpetrators must be brought to justice.”
In August, an Eritrean festival had its permit withdrawn by police because of safety concerns. At the time, police said officers had worked closely with organizers of two different groups to “support citizens in their right to peaceful assembly” and “ensure public safety for both the festival and demonstration attendees,” but “rising tensions” prompted the permit to be withdrawn.
Police said the event relocated to another location and an altercation broke out between two groups. They said a number of people were taken to hospital with injuries, mostly minor.
Police described a chaotic scene in southeast Edmonton where the clashes took place and a significant police presence was there. While three people were detained, no charges were laid.
Protesters at the August event who were opposed to the Eritrean festival said they believed it was being held in support of the government of Eritrea, which human rights groups have called an oppressive regime.
“We were having our festival and then they barged in, and they came and disrupted our festival,” Gebreysesus said. “We have the right to celebrate our festival, but we need the protection (to do that).
“An investigation must be done. Perpetrators must be brought to justice.”
At an unrelated news conference, Edmonton police Chief Dale McFee was asked about the protesters’ concerns.
“We’re looking at the investigation right now,” he said. “There’s always calls for action. We’re going to do what’s right and what the evidence supports.”
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Gebreysesus said the festival meant to celebrate Eritrea has taken place annually in Edmonton for decades.
Edmonton is not the only Canadian city where festivals were held this summer that saw tensions boil over among some people with Eritrean roots.
On Tuesday, police in Calgary announced 10 more people have now been charged in connection with the violence that unfolded at two events hosted by members’ of that city’s Eritrean community in September.
–With files from The Canadian Press
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