Ethiopian protesters lobby world church meeting in Geneva
By Stephen Brown – Ecumenical News International / 30 August 2006
|Geneva, 30 August (ENI)–A meeting in Geneva of the main governing body of the World Council of Churches has opened with a demonstration outside its headquarters against one of the church grouping’s eight presidents, Patriarch Abune Paulos of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church.|
About 60 demonstrators gathered outside the WCC’s Geneva offices on 30 August, waving Ethiopian flags and chanting “Paulos is not Ethiopia’s spiritual leader,” and, “He’s not our patriarch.” A handful of uniformed police watched them.
Ethiopia has been engulfed in political tensions following national elections in 2005, when Meles Zenawi of the ruling Ethiopian People’s evolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) was re-elected prime minister. He imposed a crackdown on opposition organizations which challenged the election result.
About 40 people were killed in violence that followed in the days after the poll.
Patriarch Paulos, who received an award from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in 2000, was elected in February as one of the WCC’s eight presidents, representing Oriental Orthodox churches.
A banner held by demonstrators stated, “Patriarch Paulos represents EPRDF [the governing party] not Ethiopian Orthodox Church.” An “open letter” distributed by some of the protesters said they were “concerned Ethiopians in Switzerland”.
The open letter accused the patriarch of remaining silent about the deaths of the killing of peaceful demonstrators, and the detention of opposition leaders, journalists and members of non-government organizations not aligned with the government.
The moderator of the WCC central committee, the Rev. Walter Altmann, told journalists that a senior WCC official was to meet a group of the protesters and listen to their concerns.
“In relation to Ethiopia, the WCC has expressed on various occasions the call that the government of Ethiopia ensure that security forces exercise maximum restraint in respect to demonstrations,” Altmann said. He recalled that in November 2005, WCC general secretary Samuel Kobia called on the Ethiopian government to “halt military action against the people and release the political prisoners”.
The WCC moderator noted, “The patriarch himself has mentioned in June that Ethiopia is big enough for all to participate and to contribute to building a just, peaceful and participatory society where all citizens will experience life in dignity.”