PM Denounces Religious Strife after Mosque Attacks

ADDIS ABABA – Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed on Saturday condemned religious violence following attacks on multiple mosques in Mota Town of Amhara region, the latest unrest targeting religious institutions.

Four mosques had been burned down and Muslim-owned properties, businesses, hotels, and residential houses “were deliberately targeted” in the attacks on Friday, said to the Ethiopian Islamic Affairs Supreme Council.

The council has called up all Ethiopians to denounce the attacks and for the government to take immediate action.

The rising inter-communal and ethnic violence threatens political reforms initiated by Prime Minister Abiy, who called the attacks “acts of cowardice”.

“Attempts by extremists to break down our rich history of religious tolerance and coexistence have no place in the new prosperity-focused Ethiopia,” said Abiy, this year’s Nobel Peace Prize laureate, in a statement posted to his Twitter account.

“I condemn such acts of cowardice and call upon all peace-loving Ethiopians to draw upon our deep knowledge of coexistence and our reservoir of respect.”

Police also said that a church in the town located 377km north of Addis Ababa had been targeted in an arson attack.

– Suspects Arrested –

It was not clear what sparked the attacks and whether they caused injuries or fatalities.  Amhara region’s official, however, said at least five people suspected of the attacks were arrested on Saturday.

“Five people who are suspected of leading and organizing the attacks have now been arrested,” Getnet Yirsaw, the Amhara state spokesman,  said in a Facebook post.

Friday’s attacks have drawn criticism from every corner of the country.

Ethiopian Human Rights Commission called for regional officials “should act promptly to investigate and bring perpetrators to justice” while Attorney General Berhanu Tsegaye vowed the government would take stern measures against the perpetrators.

The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church denounced the attacks in the strongest terms possible. The incident demolishes the age-long culture of peaceful coexistence among the people, said the Church in a statement.

Abiy’s administration has introduced sweeping political and economic reforms, which have won him international praise, culminating in the award of the Nobel Peace Prize for peacemaking efforts with long-time enemy Eritrea.

But the reforms have also stoked ethnic and religious tensions as regional strongmen have been emboldened to compete over influence and resources.

The International Crisis Group think-tank warned in a report published this week of an uptick in attacks on religious institutions across Ethiopia and suggested that rising inter-communal tensions pose a threat ahead of elections scheduled for May 2020.

By Staff Writer & Agencies

Image caption: Prime Minister Abiy in a picture taken on Dec. 7. (Photo Tiksa Negeri/Reuters)