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Stand-off at Ethiopian activist's home amid tensions with PM Abiy

Reuters , Wednesday 23 Oct 2019
Oromo youth shout slogans outside Jawar Mohammed
Oromo youth shout slogans outside Jawar Mohammed's house, Ethiopia October 23, 2019. (Photo: REUTERS)
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Hundreds of supporters of an Ethiopian ethnic activist and media entrepreneur gathered outside his house on Wednesday, hours after it was surrounded by police following a warning by the prime minister against media owners "fomenting unrest".

At least 400 young men joined the protest at the house of Jawar Mohammed in the capital Addis Ababa while around two dozen police officers stood nearby, a Reuters witness said.

The young men, from the Oromo ethnic group, chanted their support for Jawar and against Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, the winner of this year's Nobel peace prize.

Police surrounded Jawar's house late on Tuesday night and ordered his bodyguards to leave, Jawar told Reuters.

Jawar said he did not know who had ordered the deployment of police and the removal of his guards, but said he believed that "whoever was orchestrating this was planning an assassination".

Police denied they had ordered officers to the house, but Abiy had earlier warned unnamed media owners against stirring up unrest.

"Those media owners who don't have Ethiopian passports are playing both ways," he told parliament on Tuesday. "When there is peace you are playing here, and when we are in trouble you not here.

"We tried to be patient. But if this is going to undermine the peace and existence of Ethiopia ... we will take measures. You can't play both ways."

A spokeswoman for Abiy's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

'ABIY DOWN!'

Jawar, who was born in Ethiopia but holds a U.S. passport, founded the Oromia Media Network, an independent television channel and news website.

He has 1.75 million Facebook followers. From 2016 to 2018, he used social media to organise strikes and protests across the Oromiya region that piled pressure on the government and led to the resignation of Abiy's predecessor in February 2018.

Jawar and the prime minister are both Oromo, Ethiopia's largest ethnic group. Many young Oromo men consider Jawar a hero who brought the political change they fought for.

Jawar, who promotes non-violent activism and an "Oromo first" ideology, returned to Ethiopia from the United States last year after Abiy come to power.

The young men outside Jawar's house call themselves "Qeerroo", an Oromo term meaning "bachelor" adopted by politically active young men.

Some shouted "Jawar, Jawar" and "Abiy Down! Abiy Down!"

One Jawar supporter, 27-year-old student Terefe Waltaji, said he had seen Jawar's post on Facebook reporting that his house was surrounded.

"I called three of my friends and came running," Terefe told Reuters. "I am angry at the government ... Abiy is letting down the Oromo people and Qeerros who brought him to this stage. If Jawar is in trouble all of us Oromos are in trouble."

Abiy, who won the Nobel prize this month for his peacemaking efforts with longtime enemy Eritrea, came to power in April 2018 and began introducing political and economic reforms.

Those reforms have opened up what was once one of Africa's most repressive nations, but also stoked violence along ethnic lines.

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