Protesters crash Eritrean culture festival in Oakland
By Tigrai Online
August 16 2011
OAKLAND -- Activists crashed the West Coast's largest Eritrean festival this weekend, turning an event meant to promote Eritrea into a heated debate about the East African nation's government and future.
As Eritrean-American children played a soccer tournament on a field outside Oakland Technical High School, adults clashed verbally and waved flags and signs at one another at the Saturday segment of the 3-day event. The megaphone-amplified arguments attracted the attention of Oakland police. Officers monitored the scene on foot until several dozen protesters marched their demonstration from the center of the festival to a sidewalk outside the school.
The festival organizers support the government of Eritrean President Isaias Afewerki, who has ruled the small country since it gained its independence from Ethiopia in 1993. The protesters, also Eritrean-Americans, shouted that Afewerki is a dictator.
"Even the people who are at the festival, some of them, a couple of them, said, `We support you,' but openly they cannot support us," Mehreteab said. "Most of them, except for the ones who were insulting us and calling us names, most of them know the facts now."
United Nations report released last month claims Eritrea broke international arms sanctions against it by planning a bomb attack in Ethiopia earlier this year, bankrolling armed militants throughout East Africa and running an underground economy that raises tens of millions of dollars from Eritreans living in the United States and elsewhere through an extraterritorial income tax, fundraising events and other means. The report identified Oakland, home to a large Eritrean immigrant community, as a major source of cash for the ruling party. Eritrea has blasted the report as unfair, inaccurate and motivated by the West's bias in favor of its rival, Ethiopia.