4 killed in Ethiopian Muslim protests

2012-10-23 12:20

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Addis Ababa - Four people, including one police officer, were killed in Ethiopia on Sunday as protesters attacked a police station where Muslim demonstrators were being held, an official said on Tuesday.

"One police officer was killed while two police officers sustained injuries, and three members of the [protester's] group were killed during the violence," government spokesperson Shimeles Kemal told AFP.

The attack occurred on Sunday in Gerba in the Amhara region, after demonstrators gathered to protest what they call undemocratic elections of the Supreme Council on Islamic Affairs, Ethiopia's highest Muslim representative body.

Shimeles said the group attacked the police station with firearms and machetes after the arrest and tried to "forcefully release their members".

Several people were arrested after the deaths, and police are searching for several people who escaped after the violence, but Shimeles said calm had returned to the city.

Elections have been held throughout the country this month to select the leaders of the Islamic Council, though many Muslims say they have abstained from the vote, accusing the government of appointing its own candidates.

Monthly protests and sit-ins have been ongoing since January by some Muslims who say the government is unconstitutionally interfering with Islamic affairs by trying to impose the moderate Al Ahbash sect, mostly alien to Ethiopia.

In July, 17 Muslim leaders were jailed following protests in the Ethiopian capital. Nine are still in detention without charges.

According to official figures, nearly 34% of Ethiopia's 83 million people are Muslim.

Ethiopia's constitution bars the government from interfering in religious affairs and calls for a secular state.

This month, Ethiopia's new Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn said the government respected religious freedom, but said some acts of religious extremism had been uncovered in some parts of the country.

He said extremism would not be tolerated and the government would take necessary measures to prevent such acts.

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