Addressing hundreds of supporters gathered around his house in Addis Ababa, Jawar said: “Open the blocked roads, clean the towns of barricades, treat those who have been injured during the protests and reconcile with those you have quarrelled with.”
He struck a conciliatory tone towards the government, saying it was “not the time to kill each other”, but warned his supporters to stay alert. “Calm yourself,” he told the crowd at his house, “but sleep with one eye open”.
People have died in at least four cities since clashes began on Wednesday, officials and a witness said, after police fired gunshots and teargas to break up demonstrations in support of Jawar.
A media entrepreneur and activist from the Oromo ethnic group, the country’s largest, Jawar organised protests that propelled Abiy to power last year.
Abiy oversaw rapid political reforms after decades of repressive rule, winning international praise that culminated in last week’s award of the Nobel Peace Prize for ending a decades-long conflict with neighbouring Eritrea.
But the greater freedoms unleashed long-repressed tensions between Ethiopia’s ethnic groups as local leaders claim more resources for their own regions. This week Abiy accused unnamed media figures of promoting ethnic interests over national unity.
Jawar, a one-time ally of the prime minister, has mobilised protesters from the Oromo ethnic group – the same group Abiy comes from. The showdown is a litmus test for Abiy: if he backs down, it could embolden Jawar and other regional powerbrokers. But widespread violence would tarnish his reformist credentials.
A spokeswoman for the prime minister did not respond to requests for comment.
Late on Tuesday, police ringed Jawar’s house and told his bodyguard to leave, he told Reuters. Hundreds of people quickly gathered in support. Protests spread in the capital and to other cities, where police fired teargas and guns to disperse them.
On Thursday, Jawar supporters dug in, erecting tents by his house. Some chanted: “We don’t want Abiy, we don’t want Abiy”.
Half a dozen police stood at a distance from the protesters.
“One week, one month, we don’t care,” said a young protester, who asked for anonymity for fear of repercussion from the security forces. “We will stay here until the government tells us why they did this to Jawar.”
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