Ethiopia stampede
Injured protesters wait for help after several people died during the Irrechaa, the thanks giving festival of the Oromo people in Bishoftu town of Oromia region, Ethiopia, October 2, 2016.REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri

A tragic stampede at Bishoftu town in Ethiopia led to the death of at least 52 persons and left scores of others wounded on Sunday. The incident was triggered by police's use of tear gas shells and warning shots to disperse anti-government protesters at a religious festival.

Thousands of people had gathered for the annual Irreecha festival of Thanksgiving in Bishoftu town when some people started chanting anti-government slogans and waved rebel group Oromo Liberation Front's flag.

According to police, police fired tear gas shells and shots in the air to disperse the crowds, causing a stampede.

"As a result of the chaos, lives were lost and several of the injured were taken to hospital," the government communications office said in a statement, according to Reuters. "Those responsible will face justice," it added.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn has expressed condolences to the families of the deceased. He said that some protestors could have pre-planned the incident and denied reports of excessive use of force by the police.

Some protestors started chanting "we need freedom" and "we need justice" besides waving the rebels' flag during the annual Irreecha festival of Thanksgiving celebrations. Crowd fled after the police fired tear gas shells and shots in the air. Some people reportedly plunged into a ditch.

Oromiya province has witnessed a series of protests in the last couple of years because of the plan to expand the capital to the region. Farmers from the Oromo ethnic group are afraid that they could be displaced if this plan is implemented. Scores of people have been killed during protests against the government's move.

The government shelved the boundary expansion plan earlier this year.