Ethiopia church split resolved amid social media suspension

Feb 15, 2023, 5:34 PM | Updated: Feb 16, 2023, 7:35 am
FILE - Ethiopian Christians celebrate Timkat, or Epiphany, a colorful festival celebrated all over ...

FILE - Ethiopian Christians celebrate Timkat, or Epiphany, a colorful festival celebrated all over Ethiopia to commemorate the baptism of Jesus Christ by John the Baptist in the River Jordan, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on Jan. 19, 2023. Widespread tensions caused by a rift within Ethiopia's Orthodox Christian church have resulted in the suspension of access to social media platforms including TikTok, Facebook and Telegram on Friday, Feb. 10, 2023. (AP Photo, File)

(AP Photo, File)

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Leaders of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church have agreed to resolve their differences peacefully after weeks of deadly confrontations between rival followers of the synod and security forces that have left at least 10 people dead.

The church, whose followers form a majority of Ethiopia’s more than 110 million population, had split after members in Oromia declared a new synod on Jan. 22 and expressed a need to exercise their faith in local languages. The church excommunicated several officials who participated in the split.

The newly signed agreement allows the use of the Afan Oromo language in churches located in the Oromia region and in other languages across other regions and states that “for this to happen, more budget and manpower will be allocated.”

At least 10 people have died and hundreds others arrested during unrest in some parts of the capital, Addis Ababa, and in Oromia, the country’s largest region.

An agreement was also reached to secure the release of those who were arrested, church officials said.

Elders including Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and retired athlete Haile Gebrselassie were involved in mediating between the two sides, the state-owned Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation reported.

Abiy had previously urged church members to resolve their differences and stated that the government would not get involved. He, an ethnic Oromo and a Protestant Christian, was however accused by some followers of undermining the church and siding with the breakaway synod.

The widespread tension had resulted in the suspension of access to social media platforms including TikTok, Facebook and Telegram since Feb. 9. The apps remain offline although many Ethiopians are using them through Virtual Private Networks. No official statement was made when internet access to social media was suspended and there has been no word yet on when it will be back.

Social media was being used to mobilize people to attend a rally planned by the church to take place on Sunday and which the government had issued a warning against. The rally was later postponed indefinitely.

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Ethiopia church split resolved amid social media suspension