ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AP) — Anti-government Muslims in Ethiopia on Monday called for mass demonstrations to be held on the religious day of Eid al-Fitr later this week to protest the arrests of 28 people on terror charges.
The calls followed a weekend of violence in which three people were killed after security forces clashed with what police labeled Muslim “extremists.”
Hundreds of people held rallies near mosques in the capital, Addis Ababa, and some regional towns on Friday and Saturday.
Police in the Oromia region said some protesters fired guns at police. The state news agency said all three killed were police officers and that 11 people were injured during the hours-long unrest. Muslim leaders, however, said that police stormed a peaceful protest and killed about a dozen people.
Some in Ethiopia’s Muslim community — about one-third of the predominantly Christian nation — have been protesting alleged government interference in religious affairs for about two years.
The Muslim protesters accuse the government of unconstitutionally encouraging a moderate teaching of Islam called Al-Ahbash. Other protests have also turned violence in the past.
Rights groups and the U.S. Commission on Intentional Religious Freedom blame the government for the ongoing tensions with Muslims.
Most of the protest leaders are now behind bars and face terrorism charges. In December, 28 activists pleaded not guilty to the terror charges. The trial has since then continued behind closed doors with the press and family members denied access to the proceedings. Defense lawyers say the court is yet to deliver a verdict.
During the latest protests at the Grand Anwar mosque in the capital, some shouted slogans demanding the release of the activists.
“The illegal activities are being spearheaded by few Salafists who have been plotting terror attacks including the killings of religious scholars,” the country’s federal police said in a statement. “The Ethiopian government and Ethiopian people will continue to work together to protect the peace and stability of the nation that enjoyed religious tolerance during its long history.”