Sunday, July 15, 2012

Ethiopia mosque sit-ins see deaths, arrests: protesters

By Aaron Maasho

ADDIS ABABA | Sun Jul 15, 2012 10:59am EDT
(Reuters) - Protesters against government interference in religious affairs staged the latest of a series of mosque sit-ins in the Ethiopian capital on Sunday, saying police had arrested dozens in the run up to this weekend's African Union summit.

Two activists told Reuters the sit-in - in protest at the government's promotion of the moderate Al Ahbash branch of Islam over other doctrines - had already been surrounded by police although there had been no clashes as yet on Sunday.

Online activists, who have been using social media to call for demonstrations, have reported several deaths during previous clashes, and published several pictures of injuries they claim are those of victims.
"They have arrested dozens, even hundreds, of protesters in the past few days, while police fired teargas and fired rounds to disperse the crowd," one activist, calling himself simply Hassan, told Reuters. Two other activists gave similar accounts.

Protests are uncommon in tightly-controlled Ethiopia and the unrest has caused concern in a predominantly Christian nation of 84 million that takes pride in centuries of coexistence.

The government fears hardline Islam is taking root in the Horn of Africa country, which has long been seen by the West as a bulwark against militancy in neighbouring Somalia.

Hassan said the planned sit-ins were held in a number of mosques throughout the capital, including the Awoliya mosque, where the first protests took place late last year.

Government officials were not immediately available for comment on Sunday, but a state news outlet said security authorities have arrested "extremists who tried to disrupt the (AU) summit."

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