Ethiopian leader accuses religious authorities of helping fuel ethnic conflict

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Ethiopia’s leader Meles Zenawi on Thursday explicitly blamed Muslim religious authorities for the country’s deadly ethnic violence in Oromia, the largest region. He even called upon them to recognize him as “a sinner,” according to the BBC.

“What is happening is caused by people who are actually affiliated to religious authorities,” Meles said during an interview with German TV channel ARD. “Those are the people who, when they bring you to worship, they actually bring those who are opposing them, bring them into their territory.”

“You have to realize what is happening here,” Meles said. “They have incited people. They have brought people with guns to attack those people that are sending them to a place that they worshiped. And they want to entrap these people.”

Those who study and follow the country’s religion say it is part of an ancient tradition for religious officials to marry their enemies or with their long-term partners. Scholars say in Ethiopia, if a man is chosen to receive the forbidden benefit, it must be presented in an act of “true worship” in a temple.

“The concept of qesha meant to symbolize such a union or union between any men and women,” the scholar Dinkeles Etema told VOA.

The cleric ended the VOA interview with an observation on the power of politics.

“I will remain a Muslim and I will continue to worship in the name of Allah but in exchange for that I would be in danger,” Dinkeles said. “Therefore, I will say on the occasion that one of the main pillars of Islam is the authority of Muslims over the interests of the Muslim world, particularly those of Ethiopia.”

Ethiopia, unlike other African nations, has not experienced the mass bloodshed seen in neighboring countries such as South Sudan and Burundi. But much of the violence has been driven by religious rivalries. It is no coincidence, then, that anti-Muslim ideology has been driven by Ethiopian politics during the Meles Zenawi era.

Meles’ death last week after an alleged illness was reportedly a result of the just-completed Ethiopian New Year celebrations.

On Wednesday, Ethiopian authorities — fearful of a potential backlash from anti-Muslim groups — blocked Twitter and Facebook accounts.

The former Ethiopian dictator joined thousands of other Ethiopians in the worship of the prophet Moses on Thursday as thousands gathered in the capital city of Addis Ababa to pray for peace in the country. “I will now rejoin the other Deux Tribes of the Almighty,” Meles reportedly said as he was led away by security forces.

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