Ethiopia arrests 400 as govt defends response to deadly ethnic violence

Christian Orthodox faithful pray at the Holy Trinity Church in Addis Ababa at the memorial service for the victims of last week’s violence in the capital and in the Oromia region. (AFP)
Updated 31 October 2019

Ethiopia arrests 400 as govt defends response to deadly ethnic violence

  • The activist at the center of the protests, Jawar Mohammed, is credited with helping to sweep Abiy to power last year but he has recently become critical of some of the premier’s policies
  • Both men are from the Oromo ethnic group, the country’s largest, and their feud highlights divisions within Abiy’s Oromo support base

ADDIS ABABA: More than 400 people have been arrested in Ethiopia during investigations into ethnic and religious violence that left 78 people dead last week, a spokeswoman for Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said Thursday.
Protests against Abiy erupted in Addis Ababa and in Ethiopia’s Oromia region on October 23 after a high-profile activist accused security forces of trying to orchestrate an attack against him — a claim police denied.
The unrest quickly devolved into ethnic and religious clashes that killed dozens of people over three days.
“The latest information that I have in terms of perpetrators that have been apprehended is 409 individuals,” spokeswoman Billene Seyoum told a press conference.
She said investigations were ongoing and that more suspects could be taken into custody.
Billene said Thursday that the death toll had climbed to 78 — up from the figure of 67 provided by a police official in Oromia last week.
Abiy, who came to power last year and was named this year’s Nobel Peace Prize laureate, has been criticized for his government’s response to the violence and specifically for waiting until the weekend to issue a statement.
Billene defended the response Thursday and dismissed descriptions of Abiy as “weak.”
Ethnic violence has been a recurring problem under Abiy, causing Ethiopia to record more displaced people than any other country last year.
Billene said the violence is the work of unnamed “elements” that oppose Abiy’s reform agenda, which has included freeing political prisoners and creating a more open political environment.
She also said the latest surge was partly a “backlash” against plans to transform Ethiopia’s ruling coalition — which has been in power for nearly three decades — into a single political party.
The activist at the center of last week’s protests, Jawar Mohammed, is credited with helping to sweep Abiy to power last year but he has recently become critical of some of the premier’s policies.
Both men are from the Oromo ethnic group, the country’s largest, and their feud highlights divisions within Abiy’s Oromo support base that could complicate his bid for a five-year term when Ethiopia votes in elections planned for May 2020.
Jawar, a media mogul, is highly divisive and accused by critics of fomenting ethnic divisions.
Abiy has faced pressure in recent days to take measures against Jawar, but Billene on Thursday declined to address whether the government held him responsible for the latest deaths.
“It’s not about naming or not naming, but it’s important for the due process of investigations to go through,” she said.


Sanders blasts Russia for reportedly trying to boost his presidential campaign

Updated 3 min 42 sec ago

Sanders blasts Russia for reportedly trying to boost his presidential campaign

  • “They are trying to cause chaos. They’re trying to cause hatred in America,” the Democratic presidential wannabe said
  • US intelligence officials have said the Russian effort also continues to support Republican President Donald Trump
WASHINGTON: Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders on Friday warned Russia to stay out of US elections after American officials had told him Moscow was trying to aid his campaign.
“The intelligence community is telling us they are interfering in this campaign, right now, in 2020. And what I say to Mr. Putin, if elected president, trust me you are not going to be interfering in American elections,” Sanders told reporters in Bakersfield, California.
Sanders, 78, a democratic socialist from Vermont, is considered the front-runner for the Democratic nomination and is favored to win the Nevada caucuses on Saturday.
The Washington Post on Friday, citing people familiar with the matter, said US officials had told Sanders about the Russian effort and had also informed Republican President Donald Trump and US lawmakers.
It was not clear what form the Russian assistance took, the paper said.
A congressional source confirmed intelligence officials have told lawmakers Russia appears to be engaging in disinformation and propaganda campaigns to boost the 2020 campaigns of both Sanders and Trump.
The source, however, cautioned that the findings are very tentative.
Sanders, a US senator, said he was briefed about a month ago.
“We were told that Russia, maybe other countries, are going to get involved in this campaign,” he told reporters. “Look, here is the message: To Russia, stay out of American elections.”
“What they are doing, by the way, the ugly thing that they are doing — and I’ve seen some of their tweets and stuff — is they try to divide us up,” he said. “They are trying to cause chaos. They’re trying to cause hatred in America.”

Moscow denies
The Kremlin on Friday denied Russia was interfering in the US presidential campaign to boost Trump’s re-election chances, following reports that American intelligence officials warned Congress about the election threat last week.
US intelligence officials told members of the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee in a classified briefing that Russia was again interfering in American politics ahead of November’s election, as it did in 2016, a person familiar with the discussion told Reuters on Thursday.
Since that briefing, Trump has ousted the acting intelligence chief, replacing him with a political loyalist in an abrupt move as Democrats and former US officials raised the alarm over national security concerns.
A senior administration official, however, said the nation was better positioned than in 2016 to defend against foreign attempts to influence elections.
“President Trump has made clear that any efforts or attempts by Russia, or any other nation, to influence or interfere with our elections, or undermine US democracy will not be tolerated,” the official said.
On Twitter, the president accused Democrats in Congress of launching a misinformation campaign that says Russia prefers him to any of what he called the “Do Nothing Democrat candidates.” Trump called it a “hoax.”

Russian accounts
Facebook said it has not seen any evidence of Russian assistance to Sanders’ campaign. In October, the company took down Russian-backed accounts that pretended to be from political battleground states.
Some of those accounts used Instagram to praise Sanders. Another used the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag and faulted Joe Biden on race issues.
Jessica Brandt of the Alliance for Securing Democracy, an organization that monitors foreign interference in US politics, said Russian state media and official social media accounts have been working to help Sanders by amplifying conspiracy theories that his Democratic rivals, the Democratic National Committee and the “corporate media” have been “rigging the system” against him.
“We can say with certainty that this is what the Russian government is pushing,” she told Reuters. “We’ve seen for some time Russian official channels promoting division within the Democratic Party.”

Warning signs
US officials have long warned that Russia and other countries would seek to interfere in the Nov. 3 presidential election, following Russia’s meddling in the 2016 campaign that ended with Trump’s surprise victory over Democratic rival Hillary Clinton.
US intelligence agencies concluded that the Kremlin used disinformation operations, cyberattacks and other methods in its 2016 operation in an effort to boost Trump, an allegation that Russia denies. Trump, sensitive to doubts over the legitimacy of his win, has also questioned that finding and repeatedly criticized American intelligence agencies.
On Friday, the Kremlin said the latest allegations were false.
“These are more paranoid announcements which, to our regret, will multiply as we get closer to the (US) election,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters. “They have nothing to do with the truth.”
Russia’s alleged interference sparked a two-year-long US investigation headed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
Mueller found no conclusive evidence of coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign. He also pointed at 10 instances in which Trump may have attempted to obstruct his investigation, as Democrats alleged, but left any finding of obstruction to Congress.