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Ethiopia religious holiday unusually quiet

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  • Rev. Fr. John-Brian Paprock
    Middle East Times Ethiopia religious holiday unusually quiet By Will Connors Middle East Times Published September 27, 2006 Unlike more violent episodes last
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 3, 2006
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      Middle East Times

      Ethiopia religious holiday unusually quiet
      By Will Connors
      Middle East Times
      Published September 27, 2006

      Unlike more violent episodes last year, and despite a few rock-
      throwers, Tuesday's religious celebration in Ethiopia was held
      largely without incident.

      Ceremonies for the Orthodox Christian holiday Meskel, honoring
      Queen Elena's "finding of the true cross" in the fourth century, were
      held in downtown Addis Ababa, and although several men were detained
      by police for throwing rocks or chanting anti-government slogans, the
      day was calm compared to the post-election riots of late 2005.

      Many residents stayed away from the celebration at first out of
      fear of violence, but as the day wore on the area surrounding Meskel
      Square filled up beyond capacity, leading some onlookers to resort to
      creative methods of gaining a vantage point, including climbing up
      the scaffolding of unused nearby billboard supports.

      The government took several measures to ensure that a more
      peaceful holiday was observed, including starting the proceedings an
      hour and a half early, and limiting the speakers and religious
      presentations to a few minutes each.

      Perhaps the most important step taken by officials, however, was
      limiting the security forces to city police officers only, rather
      than using the much hated blue-camouflaged federal police.

      "The federals, they are dogs. Dogs," said one fiery young man who
      did not give his name, adding, "The city police, we don't mind them.
      They are our brothers."

      The brown-uniformed city police, most with riot-gear helmets and
      batons, were everywhere. Officers were positioned every five meters
      (16 feet) in the densely packed viewing area, directing traffic and
      watching spectators attentively.

      Plainclothes officers were also scattered throughout the crowd,
      listening for potentially incendiary conversations. Towards the end
      of the ceremony, a young man discussing last year's violence was
      identified by a non-uniformed man and taken away. Whether the
      identifier was an officer or a civilian was not clear.

      Another moment that highlighted the unusual calm of the crowd was
      during a speech by the Orthodox Church's patriarch, Abune Paulos. A
      controversial figure who has survived at least one known
      assassination attempt, Paulos' speech last year was met by a chorus
      of jeers and boos and led to violent riots. This year, however, his
      speech rumbled out over the loudspeakers and was received with a
      resolute silence.

      When the culminating moment of the ceremony (the burning of a
      large bonfire, or Damera) began, the atmosphere tensed. Small groups
      began chanting anti-government slogans, and a few rocks were thrown.
      Police reacted quickly, converging on the trouble spots and detaining
      several dozen men.

      Later, a state-owned gas station a half-kilometer away from the
      ceremonies was vandalized by several stone-toting youths. Two station
      guards were injured and a gas pump was damaged before another guard,
      who had a pistol, fired a shot into the air to scare the young men

      One of the guards, an elderly man, was hit in the leg by a rock
      and his wound was bleeding. He said that police arrived shortly after
      the youths ran away, but he was not sure if any were apprehended.

      Public gatherings of any kind in Ethiopia have been platforms for
      disaffected citizens to voice their displeasure with the ruling
      government since controversial May, 2005 elections. And though this
      day's events were calm in comparison to demonstrations last year in
      which over 80 people were killed and some 10,000 arrested, the desire
      to protest appears to be alive and well.

      Government officials were not immediately available for comment.

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