At least 23 inmates have died after a fire at an Ethiopian prison where anti-government protesters are reportedly being held, the government has said.

A government statement says 21 died of suffocation after a stampede while two others were killed as they tried to escape.

Some local media have disputed the account, citing unnamed witnesses who say prisoners were shot by the wardens.

There has been an unprecedented wave of protests in Ethiopia in recent months.

The identity of the prisoners has not been made public.

Sustained gunfire could be heard coming from Qilinto prison, on the outskirts of the capital Addis Ababa, after the fire broke out on Saturday, local media reported.

TV footage and photos posted on social media showed plumes of smoke rising from the prison compound.

Reports that the fire was started deliberately as part of an attempted jailbreak have not been independently verified.

There have been numerous protests in the Oromia region by members of the country's largest ethnic group since November 2015.

BBC