Sporadic gunfire erupted outside Ethiopia's capital Saturday as security forces kept a fragile calm, after a week of political violence in which at least 44 people were killed and thousands arrested.

A media watchdog group urged the government to end a crackdown that has prompted most independent journalists to stop reporting on the violence and forced others into hiding to avoid arrest.

Demonstrators and security forces clashed in Debre Brahan, a town northeast of Addis Ababa, a human rights group said.

"There was shooting. We believe there may be casualties," said a member of the group, who spoke on condition that neither he nor his group be named for fear of arrest.

On Friday, the violence spread to at least six other towns, killing at least four people, and scattered gunfire erupted throughout the capital, said Western diplomats, who spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid jeopardizing relations with the government. Gunfire broke out Friday night in one neighborhood of Addis Ababa, diplomats said.

The violence erupted over the outcome of May 15 parliamentary elections. Opposition parties say the election and vote count were marred by fraud, intimidation and violence.

Police have killed at least 40 people since the confrontations began, according to medical officials who have asked not to be identified for fear of retaliation. Government officials have put the number of dead this week at 24 civilians and seven police officers.

An estimated 4,000 people have been arrested, Western diplomats said.