400 arrested in Ethiopia as government defends response to deadly ethnic violence

Oromo youth chant slogans during a protest in-front of Jawar Mohammed’s house, an Oromo activist and leader of the Oromo protest in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, October 24, 2019. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri/File Photo

More than 400 people were arrested in Ethiopia during investigations into ethnic and religious violence that left 78 people dead last week, a spokeswoman for Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said.

The protests against Prime Minister Abiy erupted on October 23 in the capital Addis Ababa after a high-profile activist accused security forces of trying to orchestrate an attack against him – a claim police denied.

The unrest quickly devolved into ethnic and religious clashes that killed dozens of people over three days.

In a press conference, spokeswoman Billene Seyoum said that so far 409 individuals had been apprehended and that investigations were ongoing more suspects expected to be taken into custody.

According to Billene, the death toll had climbed to 78 – up from the figure of 67 provided by a police official in Oromia last week.

Abiy, who came to power last year and was named this year’s Nobel Peace Prize laureate, has been criticised for his government’s response to the violence and specifically for waiting until the weekend to issue a statement.

Ethnic violence has been a recurring problem under Abiy, causing Ethiopia to record more displaced people than any other country last year.