ADDIS ABABA - In a new bout of violence over government interference in Muslim religious affairs, at least four people were killed when protestors attacked a police station in eastern Ethiopia.
"One police officer was killed while two police officers sustained injuries, and three members of the [protester's] group were killed during the violence," government spokesperson Shimeles Kemal told Agence France-Presse (AFP) on Tuesday, October 23.
The violence occurred after protestors attacked a police station in the town of Gerba in the Amhara region on Sunday after the arrest of a protestor who tried to disrupt the postponed election of the Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs in the town.
"His supporters, armed with machetes and handguns, tried to have him released by force," Kemal told Reuters.
"In the ensuing conflict, three members of the extremist group who tried violently to break in the prison were shot dead by police officers."
Activists have posted pictures online of dead bodies and men with gaping wounds sustained during the incident.
Police arrested several people following the violence.
Election for choosing SCIA members was held across the country two weeks ago, but Ethiopian Muslims had called for boycotting the vote.
Muslims have held weekly demonstrations and sit-ins over the past year in protest at government interference in the SCIA election.
In May, four Muslims were killed in protests against government interference in their religious affairs.
In July, 17 Muslim leaders were jailed following protests in the Ethiopian capital. Nine are still in detention without charges.
Muslims say the government is spearheading a campaign in collaboration with the Supreme Council to indoctrinate their community with the ideology of a sect called "Ahbash".
The government of former Ethiopian Premier Meles Zenawi has put the Ahbash in charge of the religious affairs of Ethiopia's Muslims.
Muslims say the government move is in violation of the constitution, which prevents the government interference in religious affairs.
Muslims also accuse the Ahbash of launching an "indoctrination program" in predominantly Muslim areas, forcing people to attend "religious training" camps or risk police interrogation and possible arrest.
Founded by Ethiopian-Lebanese scholar Sheikh Abdullah al-Harari, Ahbash is seen by the West as a "friendly alternative" to Wahabi ideology, which the West sees as extreme and militant.
Muslims say Ahbash imams are being brought over from Lebanon to fill the Majlis and teach Ethiopians that Wahabis are non-Muslims.
Ethiopia, Africa's second most populous country, is home to 60 percent Christian and about 34 percent Muslim, according to CIA Factbook.