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News: Curfew, ban on public gathering imposed in Somali region after death of two at religious festival

Addis Abeba, January 31/2019 – Authorities have imposed a curfew of 10:00 PM local time and a ban on public gathering in the Somali regional state in eastern Ethiopia as of yesterday.

The measures, which Abdullahi Mahamed Abdi, Somali region deputy security chief, said would last for three days, followed the death of two people on January 29 after a group of people provoked clashes at a religions festival some 35 km off Jigjiga, the region’s capital. The two people were killed when security forces intervened to control the clashes, which began when a group of youngsters started throwing stones at members of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Church congregation who were returning from St Mary day celebrations. A similar incident in Dire Dawa last week led to a week long violent protests which resulted in the death of one and destruction of properties. More than 200 people were arrested following the incident.

Authorities in Jigjiga blame the incident on “members of the Heego group”, a youth group organized under the auspices of the region’s ex-president Abdi Iley, who was indicted with criminal charges at a federal court yesterday suspected of inciting violence and attempting to overthrow the constitutional order by means of violence.

A member of the the regional council who wants to remain anonymous told Addis Standard by phone that authorities “didn’t want to take any chance at this particular time when we are struggling with anti-reform forces gathering against the leadership of Mustafa Omer,” the region’s vice president.

An out of the blue spat between the regional president and Ahmed Shide, chairman of SPDP and federal minister of Finance last week led the former to publicly accuse the later of “treason” against the region and an eventual meeting with PM Abiy Ahmed. Both sides remained mum since a statement from the PM’s office was released stating that “discussions centered on the development and security activities of the region” took place between the trio, which ended with PM Abiy “providing direction on strengthening the development of the Somali region.”

Rationalizing the curfew and ban on public gathering however, the regional council member told Addis Standard that “We are also informed by what happened during the August [2018] experiences which targeted churches and non-Somali residents of the region.” he said. He declined to give specifics on when the curfew and the ban on public gathering would come to an end. “Together with the police and the regional security apparatus, we are evaluating the situation and would publicly announce when it ends.”

The member of the council was referring to the three days violence that brought chaos to the region leading to the intervention of federal forces. On January 25, the Attorney General’s office revealed that the August violence resulted in the killings of 58 people while 266 were injured. the report by the AG also revealed a gruesome details which were previously unreported, including the discovery of a mass grave where the remains of 42 of the victims was found. Eight more bodies were discovered inside the premises of St. Michael Church in Jigjiga city. The report also said ten women were raped in just a span of three days but added there could be more unreported cases of rapes. And properties worth about 421 million birr were also vandalized in the violence. AS

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