Ethiopian Nile dam manager found shot dead, crowds call for justice

ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - The project manager of a $4 billion Ethiopian dam was found shot dead in his vehicle in Addis Ababa on Thursday, police said, prompting scores of people to take to the streets in the capital and his home city calling for justice.

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People in the crowds said they believed Simegnew Bekele had been murdered, though there was no immediate confirmation from the authorities, or details of any motive.

“We have confirmed that engineer Simegnew Bekele was shot dead ... He had a bullet wound behind his right ear,” the head of Ethiopia’s Federal Police Commission, Zeinu Jemal, told reporters.

Zeinu said a Colt pistol was found in the vehicle in the city’s Meskel Square - a massive road junction and open space usually packed with vehicles and pedestrians during daylight hours.

Ethiopia’s new Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed was “saddened and utterly shocked” by the death, his chief of staff said in tweet.

Simegnew was the public face of the Grand Renaissance Dam project on the River Nile - the centerpiece of Ethiopia’s bid to become Africa’s biggest power exporter.

Ethiopia has been pushing on with the project in the face of opposition from Egypt which fears it will affect the flow of the Nile, its main source of water. In June, the leaders of Ethiopia and Egypt vowed to iron out their differences peacefully.

Crowds in Addis Ababa marched to the state television station’s headquarters chanting “No to killings” and “Justice for Simegnew”.

Hundreds also packed the streets of his birthplace, the northern city of Gondar. “Amongst our requests is the repatriation of his body back to his own city,” said one protester, who only gave his name as Geremew.

A Reuters photographer saw blood stains along an arm rest inside his vehicle - a gold Toyota Land Cruiser - before an ambulance took away the body.

The dam is currently only half complete, but the government says it is designed to churn out 6,000 megawatts (MW) of power on completion.

Editing by Omar Mohammed and Andrew Heavens