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Ethiopia Arrests Muslim Leaders After Unrest in Addis Ababa

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July 20 (Bloomberg) -- Ethiopian police yesterday arrested an unspecified number of Muslim leaders involved in last week’s unrest in the capital, Addis Ababa, Communications Minister Bereket Simon said.

The arrest of members of a committee from Awalia Mosque in Addis Ababa and others was made after obtaining a court order, he said.

“Those arrested are people who instigated the violence,” he said by phone from the city today. “They were trying to undermine the constitution under the guise of religion.”

A group of Ethiopian Muslims, who make up 34 percent of a population of 94 million according to the CIA World Factbook, have been protesting for eight months at mosques about alleged government interference in elections of Islamic leaders. Ethiopian authorities have accused protesters of including extremists who want to turn Ethiopia into an Islamic state.

A minimum of three members of the 17-person committee and three others were arrested yesterday, group spokesman Ahmedin Jebel said.

“Simultaneously the houses of 24 individuals were searched,” he said by telephone today from the capital. “They stayed the whole night there.”

A group of Muslims gathered around Anwar Mosque today to protest the arrests and state interference in religious affairs, demonstrator Abdul Samad said.

“We can’t elect out leaders,” he said today outside the city’s largest mosque. “And we are being imprisoned.”

Security forces arrested 72 people from a crowd trying to create a “civil disturbance” around Awalia Mosque on July 13, the government said. Police raided the mosque and fired shots and tear gas to disrupt a meeting planned for July 15 where the elections would be discussed, according to Ahmedin.

To contact the reporter on this story: William Davison in Addis Ababa via Nairobi at pmrichardson@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Antony Sguazzin in Johannesburg at asguazzin@bloomberg.net.

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