Christian Groups Clash in Ethiopia

Jan 04, 2003 08:42 AM EST

Efforts are being made in Ethiopia to calm religious tension in the north-eastern town of Mekele.

Two people were shot dead when a dispute over a religious gathering on Sunday turned into a riot.

Orthodox Christians in Ethiopia and their evangelical Protestant counterparts have theological differences, but violence between them is rare.

Officials in Mekele are holding talks with leaders from the town's Orthodox community in an attempt to cool feelings.

Authorities have blamed youths from the Orthodox community for Sunday's trouble, which also resulted damage to property.

The police say the young people tried to break up a legitimate meeting at the town's stadium, organised by the Evangelical Church.

Other people, however, have said the police were responsible for the deaths, claiming that officers were unable to handle the situation.

The police say the riot began after they stopped the Orthodox youths entering the stadium.

The youths started throwing stones, and the security forces responded by firing in the air, they said.

The police spokesman told me that the deaths occurred when some armed officers were pushed over while firing - so they shot into the crowd instead of into the air.

Preaching agreement

This is the first religious trouble in the town for 10 years.

In 1993, people of the Orthodox faith clashed with members of the Protestant Adventist Church.

The Adventists were distributing religious literature from house to house.

After that incident, it was agreed that preaching would only be done inside churches.

Sunday's Evangelist meeting was supposed to be about drought relief and the problem of HIV and Aids.

But some members of the Orthodox community apparently felt that the stadium meeting broke the 10-year-long agreement of no public preaching.

The police spokesman was keen to stress that calm had now returned to the town.

He said he was sure the crisis would be settled through talks.

By Albert H. Lee
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