ADDIS ABABA – Scores of Ethiopian Muslims have been killed and dozens wounded or arrested on Saturday, August 3, when government forces open fire on unarmed demonstrators throughout the country according to Ethiopian activists who took part in the demonstrations.
The confrontation began after activists rallied across different cities demanding the release of three Imams; Mohammed Abdalla, Abdulkadir H/Kadir and Mukhtar Safi, arrested in Wabe town earlier this week, OPride website reported on Sunday.
Marching peacefully early Saturday morning from the town of Wabe to Kofele to petition regional administrators for the release of the arrested imams, federal police tried to block protesters near a small town called Totolamo.
Later on, it opened on peaceful demonstrators killing at least six, said one protester who gave his name only as Hussein due to fear of repercussions.
Hussein said the whole area looked like a war zone, describing the scene of the confrontation as “full of panic and blood” clouded with tear gas.
The bloodshed followed a statement in the government media that said the ongoing Muslim protests will no longer be tolerated.
According to a CNN report, witnesses said at least 25 Ethiopian Muslims were killed.
Another witness added that at least one child was among the dead. He also stated government security forces arrested over 1,500 protesters on Friday.
Protests have rocked Ethiopia over the past months over government interference in the religious affairs of the Muslim community.
Muslims say the government is spearheading a campaign in collaboration with the Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs to indoctrinate their community with the ideology of a sect called "Ahbash".
Muslims say the government move is in violation of the constitution, which prevents the government interference in religious affairs.
Muslims also accuse the Ahbash of launching an "indoctrination program" in predominantly Muslim areas, forcing people to attend "religious training" camps or risk police interrogation and possible arrest.
To quell the Muslim protests, the Ethiopian government launched a major crackdown, arresting scores of Muslim protest leaders.
After the clashes, hospitals in Awassa and Shashamane crowded with wounded people, the reports said.
Surrounding towns of Dodola and Asasa were also put under military siege Sunday morning, eyewitnesses said.
Several activists and journalists were also arrested at the notorious Maekelawi prison in Addis Ababa, including Bilal Radio journalists Darsema Dori and Khalid Mohammed.
Bilal Radio on Saturday reported the two journalists were held incommunicado and denied visitation rights even by family members.
Earlier on Friday, a similar sit-in was planned in mosques nationwide. Yet, the event was cancelled at the last minute to avoid what the activists saw as government provocation and to prevent bloodshed.
After the deaths, protests are expected to spread to the nearby towns of Asasa and Dodola towns on Sunday where tensions are already high.
Similar concerns were also expressed over next week’s `Eid al-Fitr celebration marking the end of holy month of Ramadan may see further protests throughout the country.
Last year's `Eid saw millions of Muslims chanting slogans critical of the government's interference in religious practices.
Muslims make up about 34 percent of Ethiopia’s population, according to the government’s 2007 census.
But other sources put Ethiopia Muslims at about 50% of the country’s population.
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