ADDIS ABABA – The death toll from October protest had risen to 86, prime minister Abiy Ahmed said, as he urged Ethiopians to resist forces threatening to impede the country’s progress.
“We have to stop those forces who are trying pull us two steps back while we are going a step forward,” Abiy told state broadcaster on Sunday.
Violence erupted after a high-profile activist Jawar Mohamed accused the government of trying to endanger his life by removing his bodyguards – a claim government officials denied.
The violence had ethnic and religious elements, government said.
The latest death toll included 82 men and 4 women, Abiy said adding that most of the victims were from the Oromo and Amhara ethnic groups and included both Muslims and Christians.
“The gender and ethnicity of the victims are expressed to show as evidence that violence does not leave anyone unaffected,” he said. Last week, his office had put the figure at 78.
Abiy also warned, “those who mistake government’s patience for weakness” while urging religious leaders to preach peace and advising political leaders to act responsibly.
Religious leaders condemned the violence as ‘act of evil’ following several houses of worships targeted by the protests.
Some accused fake news shared on Facebook was behind the deadly violence as running legend Haile Gebreselassie told the BBC he could sue Facebook if they fail to remove certain posts.
The double Olympic champion was not explicit about which posts he was referring to, but told the BBC in the capital Addis Ababa that “fake news is easy to spread”.
Referring to the death toll, the 46-year-old added that “the main cause I believe was Facebook”.
Graphic images, purporting to show the results of the trouble, began to circulate on social media. Haile said he thought the pictures were not of Ethiopians saying: “I know my people, they don’t do such awful things”.
The government said 409 people have been arrested in connection with the violence and the trouble has subsided.
Facebook is yet to respond to Haile’s accusations.
[Photo Fana broadcasting]