ADDIS ABABA, Sept. 13 – Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed called for calm on Thursday as clashes over the hoisting of a controversial flag in the capital, Addis Ababa, left several people injured.
The disturbances, which started on Wednesday and continued through Thursday, occurred when supporters of a previously banned rebel group, Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), who mostly came from ethnic Oromo villages surrounding Addis Ababa and beyond, entered the city waving OLF flags.
This gesture angered some residents of Addis Ababa, who clashed with the OLF supporters, with both sides using sticks and stones against each other.
Many ethnic Oromos, who make up about a third of Ethiopia’s estimated 100 million people, see OLF and the flag as resistance against decades of discriminatory practices of non-Oromo elites based in Addis Ababa.
Many non-ethnic Oromos, how ever, believe the OLF and its flag symbolize a desire to split Ethiopia’s largest region Oromia from the rest of Ethiopia.
Speaking to state media outlets, Ahmed said Ethiopians should have the right to freedom of expression, including holding flags of their own liking.
“There will be no single winner when Ethiopians fight over flags or other controversial issues,” he said. “We should cooperate each other by resolving our differences through dialogue.”
Ahmed warned that unspecified “forces” want to incite violence under the guise of the flag controversy.
The government will not tolerate such provocations, the prime minister said, urging people to refrain from acts that can incite violence.
Ethiopia Federal Police Commissioner Zeynu Jemal also called on citizens to respect each other’s freedom of expression, including holding and waving flags of their own choice.
However, Jemal warned, police would not tolerate acts of vandalism such as graffiti-painting over public spaces. He urged all involved to refrain from such illegal acts.
Once designated as a terror group, the OLF was delisted earlier this month as part of political reforms undertaken by the Ahmed administration, which assumed office in April.
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