More than 100 people staged a four-day hunger strike on the front steps of the state Capitol over the weekend, drawing attention to Ethiopian government violence against Oromo students.
While the government said at least 11 students had died after protests that started last month, people with family and colleagues back in Ethiopia's Oromia state said at least 70 people have been killed, with even more wounded.
The hunger strikers said they were at the capitol to draw attention to the violence.
"We have not been able to get media attention on the state authorities," said Fatuma Bedhaso, 22, of St. Paul. The hunger strike "is nothing compared to what the students back home are going through."
There are about 40,000 Oromo in Minnesota, most of them in the Twin Cities.
The conflict in Ethiopia arose April 25, when students at colleges and universities in Oromia took to the streets to protest a government plan to claim farmland in the state for the expansion of the capital Addis Ababa. Coverage has spread through social media, where content is tagged #oromoprotests.
Nagessa Dube, 33, and Shenafi Muleta, 31, both of Hopkins, had been at the hunger strike since Friday.
They came to the United States recently after being arrested at earlier student protests in Ethiopia, they said.
Dube spent three years in prison, Muleta six years.
"It's so sad" what's happening back home, Dube said. "We know how it feels. We know how hard it is being in that prison."
Strikers carried placards calling for the United States to end support to Ethiopia and grisly images of young people in bloodied clothes.
One man, who didn't want to be identified, rolled up a shirt sleeve to reveal a jagged scar that wrapped around his forearm.
"From torture," he said.
A House committee signed a resolution supporting the Oromo community Monday.
The hunger strikers disbanded about noon Monday, when their permit to assemble expired. They were waiting on word about a similar resolution in the Senate.
Edao Dawano, 27, of Minneapolis said that even though the strike was ending, the work to keep the Oromo story in the news wasn't over.
"This is a crisis for our culture," said Dawano. "It impacts our way of life, our values, our cultural heritage."
John Brewer can be reached at 651-228-2093. Follow him at twitter.com/jbrewerpipress.