After deadly protests, religious leaders in Ethiopia call for peace

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Religious leaders in Ethiopia have joined together to plead for peace amid ongoing protests that have sometimes resulted in deadly violence.

"We the religious leaders of Ethiopia firmly believe that peace is a priceless grace from God. It is possible to worship with a calm spirit only when there is sustainable peace," the leaders of the Inter-religious Council of Ethiopia said. "We Ethiopians have lived together through the ages sharing our joys and griefs, problems and challenges; and we are still practicing the same values."

The Catholic Church in Ethiopia is represented on the interreligious council. Its statement was published by the Catholic News Agency for Africa.

The interreligious leaders called on people of different religions to accept each other with mutual respect, forgiveness and mercy and unite for peace. They asked Ethiopians to "look at your fellow Ethiopians as brothers and sisters, to repent of hatred and chaos and present all your concerns peacefully."

The religious leaders were "deeply saddened" by the violence at the Irrecha thanksgiving celebration on Oct. 2 at Bishoftu Town, about 30 miles southeast of Addis Ababa. Over 50 people were killed in a stampede when police tried to disrupt an anti-government protest taking place amid the festival. Several people were hospitalized with severe injuries.

Anti-government protesters had approached a festival stage where religious leaders were speaking. In response, police fired teargas and rubber bullets at the protesters and shot live rounds into the air.

Protesters blamed police for causing the stampede. Clashes between protesters and security forces continued the next day.

President Mulatu Teshome Wirtu blamed the stampede on "some hooligans." The Oromia region's spokesman's office, Fikadu Tessema, also blamed the stampede on the protesters.

Since November 2015, there have been sometimes violent protests in the Oromia region of Ethiopia. Protesters have called for wider political freedom and the release of detained opposition figures and journalists, the Associated Press reports.

Ethiopia's government is accused of suppressing dissent and blocking access to the internet.

The leaders of the Inter-religious Council of Ethiopia said they have repeatedly asked Ethiopia's prime minister and government officials to listen to people's concerns and to respond immediately.

"We have also called on the faithful on different occasions to observe fasting and prayer for peace and calm," they said. "Nevertheless, the peace of our country has declined from time to time."

They stressed the sanctity of human life and the need for all parties to respect the right to life. They also called for compensation for the families of those who had lost their lives and for those whose property was damaged.

The religious leaders stressed the government's responsibility to calm conflict. Local and international mass media and social media should avoid transmitting "messages that promote hatred, conflict and violence."

In addition, the religious leaders recommended the establishment of a "peace taskforce" with religious leaders, elders, academics and business people from different parts of the country to advance national understanding, reconciliation and psychological relief.

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