Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed on Sunday said the number of people killed in protests held last month had risen to 86, reported Reuters.
During a news conference with local news organizations broadcast by state-affiliated Fana Broadcasting, the prime minister urged citizens to resist forces threatening to impede the country’s progress.
“We have to stop those forces who are trying pull us two steps back while we are going one step forward,” Abiy said.
Activist Jawar Mohammed’s supporters came out on the streets in large numbers on Oct. 23 and 24 to protest against Abiy’s government after Mohammed said police had surrounded his home in the capital Addis Ababa and tried to withdraw his government security detail. The protests quickly turned into ethnic and religious clashes in multiple locations in Oromia.
Abiy said the latest death toll stands at 86, which the government late last week had put at 78, included 82 men and four women. He added that most were from the Oromo and Amhara ethnic groups and victims included both Muslims and Christians. Notably, orthodox Christian leaders have accused Abiy’s government of failing to protect the church’s followers.
The prime minister defended his decision to prioritize dialogue over force. He said that the government will not walk away from the responsibility to protect people and their property.
“The Ethiopian government has been magnanimous with a view to widen the political and democratic space in Ethiopia,” said Abiy. “It has opted for dialogue and education instead of using force, however those who think patience is fear or magnanimity is weakness should know they are mistaken.”
Abiy was recently awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in ending the 20-year war between Ethiopia and Eritrea.
Meanwhile, on Sunday, Catholic Pope Francis he was pained by attacks on Ethiopia’s Orthodox Christians and urged people to pray for all the victims of violence there.