Ethiopian Muslims clash with police before AU Summit meeting

By William Davison

July 14, 2012 (Bloomberg) — Hundreds of people were injured and arrested when Ethiopian police clashed with Muslims in the capital, Addis Ababa, where African leaders are gathering for a summit, and one person may have died, an Islamic committee said.

The violence yesterday, which involved guns, sticks and tear gas, occurred in five areas of the city after federal police broke into the city’s Awalia Mosque compound in order to disrupt preparations for a meeting tomorrow, Ahmedin Jebel, representing a mosque community group, said today in a phone interview.

“They broke the door and entered and started shooting at Muslims,” Ahmedin said from the capital. “Many were attacked and they arrested almost all of those there.” After a call to prayers, Muslims who gathered in response to the incident were involved in further clashes, he said.

Some Ethiopian Muslims, who make up 34 percent of a population of 94 million according to the CIA World Factbook, have been protesting for eight months at mosques about alleged government interference in elections of Islamic leaders. The government has accused the protesters of including extremists who want to turn Ethiopia into an Islamic state. The meeting being planned by the mosque was partly about the elections issue.

Policemen Injured

Seventy-two people were arrested and six policemen and 10 civilians were injured when a group tried to create a “civil disturbance” at Awalia by blocking roads and shouting political slogans, State Minister of Communications Shimeles Kemal said by phone today from the capital. Police may have used tear gas though they didn’t open fire and there were no fatalities, he said.

“The policemen sustained injuries from rocks thrown by protesters,” he said. “They were trying to spread the disturbance to other mosques but the police intervened and got it under control.”

The group was trying to create “havoc” to disturb the African Union summit, Shimeles said. “There is no threat” now, he said.

People were gathering today at the capital’s largest mosque in the Mercato area to demand the release of all those arrested yesterday, said Ahmedin.

Four people were killed in clashes with security forces in southeastern Ethiopia on April 27 when a crowd tried to free a Muslim preacher who had been arrested, the government said. Ten policemen were injured, the police station and a post office burned down and 24 people were arrested during the incident in Asasa in the Arsi Zone of Oromia region, the government said at the time.

African heads of state and other dignitaries are arriving in Addis Ababa this weekend to attend a two-day African Union summit that begins tomorrow.

–Bloomberg