Abiy denounces those who want to create “an ethnic and religious crisis”
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, recently awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, denounced on Saturday “an attempt to provoke an ethnic and religious crisis”, after violence that killed 67 people this week during demonstrations .
“The crisis we are facing could get worse if the Ethiopians do not join forces,” Abiy said in his first statement since the clashes erupted.
“We will work tirelessly to ensure that justice prevails and bring the culprits to justice,” he said.
“There is an attempt to turn the current crisis into an ethnic and religious crisis,” denounced the reformist Prime Minister.
The violence erupted on Wednesday in the capital, Addis Ababa, before spreading into the Oromia region, when supporters of a controversial activist, Jawar Mohammed, took to the streets, burning tires and erecting barricades, blocking roads in several cities.
The clashes between demonstrators and the police, but also communities between them. Goods belonging to the Ethiopian Tewahedo Orthodox Church, some associated with the Amhara community, have also been targeted.
On Friday, the police chief in Oromia state, Kefyalew Tefera, reported a death toll of 67, including five policemen. He pointed out that most of the victims were killed in “clashes between civilians” and not when the police intervened.
The Defense Ministry on Friday announced the deployment of soldiers in seven areas where the situation remained particularly tense.
Jawar Mohammed, the founder of the opposition Oromia Media Network ( OMN ), is a former ally of reformist Prime Minister Abiy. Both belong to the Oromo community, the largest ethnic group in Ethiopia.
But relations between the two men have deteriorated recently, Jawar Mohammed having publicly criticized several reforms of Abiy Ahmed, who has just been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
He was rewarded as a craftsman for a spectacular reconciliation with the Eritrean ex-brother and father of reforms that could profoundly transform Ethiopia, long given to authoritarianism.
But the legalization of dissident groups and the improvement of the freedom of the press have also allowed a freer expression of inter-communal tensions and ethnic nationalisms.
Abiy, who was in Sochi (Russia) to attend the Russia-Africa summit when the first violence erupted, was criticized for not reacting to the clashes.
The break between Abiy Ahmed and Jawar Mohammed – who accused the prime minister of wanting to “establish a dictatorship” – illustrates the divisions within the Oromo ethnic group, which could weaken support for Abiy as the elections approach planned for next May.
Jawar Mohammed has not ruled out a possible candidacy against the prime minister. “It’s a possibility,” he told AFP . “I want to have an active role in these elections. I do not yet know in what way, but I want the influence that I exert in the country is concretized positively “.
Jawar Mohammed, who has 1.7 million subscribers on Facebook, is accused by his detractors of inciting ethnic hatred in the second most populous country in Africa, with 110 million inhabitants.
He has repeatedly accused the Tigrayans of suppressing all opposition and marginalizing the Oromo, his ethnic group, the largest in Ethiopia.
The Tigrayans, who now make up only 6% of the population, have long had a power that is out of all proportion to their numerical importance.
The Tiger Liberation Front ( TPLF ) was at the origin of the fall in 1991 of the military-Marxist regime and dominated until 2018 the then ruling coalition, the Revolutionary Democratic Front of the Ethiopian People ( EPRDF) ).
But the anti-government protests organized by the two main communities, the Oromo and the Amhara, were right in its omnipotence. The TPLF is still a member of the EPRDF , but has been excluded from many key positions.