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Ethiopia’s chief of staff and at least three other senior officials have been killed during a coup attempt by an army general in the northern state of Amhara, state television said on Sunday.
Amhara’s state president Ambachew Mekonnen and his advisor were also killed, according to state media, which named the region’s security head, General Asamnew Tsige, as the orchestrator of the attempted coup.
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government faces growing pressure from regional strongmen, including in Amhara, a flashpoint in growing ethnic violence in Ethiopia.
The shooting occurred when federal officials were meeting the state president – an ally of Abiy – to discuss how to rein in the open recruitment of ethnic militias by Asamnew, one Addis-based official told Reuters.
A week earlier, Asamnew had openly advised the Amhara people, one of Ethiopia’s larger ethnic groups, to arm themselves, in a video spread on Facebook and seen by a Reuters reporter.
Abiy donned military fatigues to announce on state television late on Saturday that there had been an attempted coup in Amhara’s capital Bahir Dar earlier that day and that Ethiopia’s Chief of Staff General Seare Mekonnen was among the
casualties. State media reported that Seare had been shot dead by his bodyguard.
Since coming to power last year, Abiy has tried to spearhead political reforms, to open up the once isolated, security-obsessed country of 100 million people on the Horn of Africa.
Abiy has released political prisoners, removed bans on political parties and prosecuted officials accused of gross human rights abuses, but his government is battling mounting violence.
Ethnic bloodshed – long held in check by the state’s iron grip – has flared up in many areas, including Amhara, where the regional government was led by Ambachew Mekonnen.
According to Abiy, regional government officials were in a meeting when a coup attempt occurred.
“There are a few people who were killed while others were injured,” Abiy said.
A regional television broadcaster affiliated with the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), a member of Abiy’s coalition, reported Seare had been killed, alongside another senior military official, Gize Abera.
The U.S. Embassy said on Saturday that it was aware of reports of gunfire in Addis Ababa, though Reuters could not confirm those reports.
“Chief of Mission personnel are advised to shelter in place,” the Embassy said on its website.
People in many parts of Ethiopia reported being unable to access the Internet beginning late Saturday although the government has not stated whether it had cut it off. Authorities have cut off the internet several times in the past for security and other reasons.
Early on Sunday, Brigadier General Tefera Mamo, the head of special forces in Amhara, told state television that “most of the people who attempted the coup have been arrested, although there are a few still at large.”
Residents in Amhara’s capital Bahir Dar said late on Saturday there was gunfire in some neighbourhoods and some roads had been closed off.
Ethiopia is due to hold a national parliamentary election next year. Several opposition groups have called for the polls to be held on time despite the unrest and displacement.
(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)