Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said the death toll from protests last month had risen to 86 and urged citizens to resist forces threatening to impede the country’s progress.
“We have to stop those forces trying pull us two steps back while we are going one step forward,” Abiy told a news conference broadcast by state-affiliated Fana Broadcasting.
Supporters of activist Jawar Mohammed took to the streets on October 23 and 24 to protest after he said police surrounded his home in Addis Ababa and tried to withdraw his government security detail.
The latest death toll, which government last week put at 78, included 82 men and four women, Abiy said. Most were from Oromo and Amhara and victims included Muslims and Christians, he said.
There were also protests in cities in Oromiya, Ethiopia’s most populous province, underscoring the spectre of ethnic violence which the United Nations said left more than two million people internally displaced.
“I ask you to pray for all the victims of violence in that land,” Pope Francis said during his Sunday address at the Vatican.
Ahead of elections in 2020, Abiy must walk a delicate line between increasing political freedom and reigning in strongmen building ethnic powerbases by demanding more access to land, power and resources for their groups.
Since his appointment in 2018, he initiated political reforms which won him international praise but also lifted the lid on tensions among the many ethnic groups in Africa’s second most populous nation.
Abiy won the Nobel peace prize last month for peacemaking efforts which ended two decades of hostility with long-time enemy Eritrea.