Ethiopian Orthodox Church reaches deal with breakaway Oromo synod

Ethiopian Orthodox faithful attend Epiphany celebration to commemorate the baptism of Jesus Christ on Lake Dambal in Batu town of Oromia Region
Ethiopian Orthodox priests carry ‘Tabot’ the replica of the Ark of the Covenant during Epiphany celebration to commemorate the baptism of Jesus Christ on Lake Dambal in Batu town of Oromia Region, Ethiopia on January 19, 2023. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri/File Photo

NAIROBI, Feb 16 (Reuters) - The influential Ethiopian Orthodox Church said late on Wednesday it had reached an agreement with a breakaway synod from the Oromiya region following deadly violence that killed dozens and led to partial internet shutdowns.

The rift threatened to bring fresh instability to Africa's second most populous nation, just as its starts to turn the page on a two-year war in the northern Tigray region that killed tens of thousands before a truce was agreed in November.

The row started on Feb. 4, when three clerics from Oromiya accused the leadership of the main church of discriminating against Oromos, the country's largest ethnic group.

They declared themselves archbishops and set up their own governing body, leading to protests by supporters and opponents in which the church said at least 30 people were killed.

As part of Wednesday's deal, which was sealed in the presence of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, the Orthodox Church reinstated the three clerics and agreed to allocate funding and resources to churches across Oromiya.

It also acknowledged the need to train more Afaan Oromo speaking priests and agreed to ordain more ethnic Oromos among high ranking clergy, it said in a statement.

Oromiya has experienced violent unrest for many years, driven by its perceived marginalisation by national authorities.

The dissenting church officials complained that the church had been culturally dominated by other ethnic groups for too long.

The working language of the main church, for example, is Amharic and its influential leader, the patriarch, is ethnic Tigrayan.

Reporting by Giulia Paravicini, Editing by Aaron Ross and Shounak Dasgupta

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