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Conference on religious tolerance kicks off in Ethiopian capital

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August 27, 2013 (ADDIS ABABA) - A national conference aimed at promoting peaceful co-existence and tolerance among religious groups in Ethiopia kicked off on Tuesday in the capital, Addis Ababa.

The conference, organised by the ministry of federal affairs and the Ethiopian Inter-Religious Council is being attended by some 2,500 participants from across the country.

The three-day conference is being held under the theme: “We shall strive to realise Ethiopia’s renaissance through strengthening the value of religious co-existence and respecting constitutional provisions”.

In his opening speech, Ethiopian prime minister Hailemariam Desalegn called on the public to remain tolerant and to join hands in battling what he called acts of extremists.

The premier warned that his government will take strong actions on so called extremists who he said are creating havoc in the country.

He also warned some political parties against using religion to achieve their agendas.

African Union (AU) commissioner for political affairs Aisha Abdullahi noted that some of the ongoing conflicts in Africa are linked to ethnic and religious intolerance.

“The ongoing crises in the Sahal region of Africa are due to the activities of some Islamic militancy”, she said, citing Uganda’s Lord Resistance Army (LRA) rebels as another case in point to highlight how intolerance can lead to conflicts.

Abdullahi said there is a need to for countries to put into a place national frameworks that promote peaceful co-existence among their diverse groups of citizens.

Ethiopia’s minister of federal affairs, Shiferaw Teklemariam, told Sudan Tribune that the conference provides an opportunity to promote the centuries old inter-religious tolerance in Ethiopia.

Maintaining religious tolerance, he said, will guarantee peaceful co-existence, as well as strengthen peace, democracy and development in the country.

A number of papers on the history of Ethiopia’s religious tolerance and peaceful co-existence, as well as on its constitution and the emerging extremism were presented by scholars.

Religious leaders are also being urged to play a lead role in promoting peace and sustainable unity.

Participants told Sudan Tribune that the government and the Inter-Religious Council must build a strong relationship in order to promote peace and tolerance.

Muslims in Ethiopia have been staging protests in the capital Addis Ababa since 2011 over what they allege is government interference in their religious affairs. The government has denied the allegations.

Protests were staged recently on the Eid al-Fitr holiday, leading to the arrest of hundreds of protesters.

The government’s actions have been condemned by international right groups, including Amnesty International, who are urging Addis Ababa to end the “use of repressive tactics against demonstrators”.

The East African nation prides itself on being a symbol of religious tolerance particularly between Christians and Muslims, however, the latest protests have raised questions about just how accepting Ethiopia is of it religious minorities.

(ST)

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