Ethiopian Muslims resume protest against government interference

By William Davison

October 5, 2012, (Bloomberg) — Today, several thousand Ethiopian Muslims protested in the capital, Addis Ababa, against what they say is government interference in the election of Islamic council leaders, a participant said.

An election for the Ethiopian Islamic Affairs Supreme Council is scheduled to be held on Oct. 7, for the first time in 12 years. Some Muslims will boycott the elections, which the government is trying to force them to vote in, demonstrator Mudessa Omar said.

“Let us vote for our own people,” Mudessa said in an interview outside Anwar Mosque, the capital’s largest Mosque and site of the demonstration. “The government has candidates that don’t represent the people.”

Some Muslims in Ethiopia, Africa’s second-most populous nation, have been objecting to alleged government interference in religious affairs for a year. The government has said the movement is led by extremists who want to create an Islamic state in the nation of 94 million people. About a third of them are Muslims, according to the C.I.A World Factbook.

Muslims cast their vote “en masse” in a first round of voting to choose electoral officers on Sept. 30 and are registered to vote on Oct. 7, State Minister of Communications Shimeles Kemal said.

“This is a last desperate attempt to prevent people from casting their vote,” he said by phone from the capital today. “The vast majority have rejected extremism.”

Police on July 19 arrested some Muslim leaders they accused of sparking violent demonstrations in the capital. Some demonstrators today chanted to demand their release, protester Nuru Maradi said in an interview outside the mosque.