Ethiopian students hunger strike over politicization of church, Beyonce's visit with patriarch

Close ties between the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and the government, and American singer Beyonce's recent meeting with the patriarch provoked protests among student's at Ethiopia's top religious college.

The 26-year-old performer met with the Ethiopian patriarch, Abune Paulos, before performing in skimpy sequined outfits as part of celebrations of the country's millennium, which fell in September according to the church's calendar.

Daniel Techale, a 28-year-old Theological College of the Holy Trinity alumnus who lives at the college, said he was not protesting but that around 30 of his friends had been hospitalized after a hunger strike they began on Sunday. He said students were upset by the church's closeness to the ruling party and restrictions on their speech, but that they also were upset over the Beyonce-Paulos meeting.

"She provoked the whole situation," he said, accusing the patriarch of "practically a non-religious act. It's unacceptable, or inappropriate, to say the least."

Authorities were trying to persuade the students to end their hunger strike, he said.

Another 26-year-old college student from the northern town of Gonder, who asked not to be named for fear of retaliation by Ethiopian authorities, said that in addition to the meeting, students were protesting what they saw as the politicization of the church.

The Orthodox Church is Ethiopia's largest, claiming 45 million out of 77 million citizens as members. It is considered to be very close to the government. It is stringently traditional - banning modern musical instruments from services, which are conducted in the archaic language of Ge'ez.

The 26-year-old student said he and 14 friends had joined a hunger strike that began on Sunday night. On Monday, ambulances were seen at the campus and on Tuesday, the college was closed and students staged a sit-in.

Not all the students were concerned with the singer, or even politics. Student Kinetibebeu Assefa, 25, said that he had joined the protest to demand an improvement in cafeteria food and demand the firing of some college officials.

"There is no problem with Beyonce," he said. "But the (cafeteria) food is poisoned."

College official Bedilu Assefa confirmed that students had complained, but said: "What they have done is they have raised some administrative issues regarding food and clinical facilities. Nobody has protested against Beyonce. Never."

There are 196 students at the college, training to work at the church, although not as clergymen.

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Author`s name Angela Antonova