Four Ethiopian officials were killed, including Ethiopia’s army chief of staff, in a failed coup attempt at two locations, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed confirmed Sunday.
On Saturday night in Addis Ababa, the African country’s capital, Seare Mekonnen and retired Major General Gezai Abera were killed at the army chief of staff’s home by his bodyguard, according to a statement by the prime minister’s office. The unnamed bodyguard who is now in custody, the prime minister’s press office said.
The army chief was coordinating a response to an attack earlier in the night in Amhara, located in the northwestern part of Ethiopia and one of nine regional states in the country, when he was killed, the Prime Minister’s press secretary Billene Seyoum told CNN Sunday.
In Bahir Dar, the capital of Amhara, the region’s President Ambachew Mekonnen and Amhara Regional Government Office Advisor Ezez Wassie died from gunshots.
Also, Regional Attorney General Migbaru Kebede sustained heavy injuries and was undergoing medical treatment, the prime minister’s office said.
Amhara’s regional security chief, Brig-Gen Asaminew Tsige, was accused by the prime minister’s office of plotting the coup attempt. It is unclear whether he has been arrested but many of those involved in the coup attempt are under arrest and operations are in progress to detain others, the PM’s press office said.
“The coup attempt in Amhara regional state is against the constitution and is intended to scupper the hard-won peace of the region,” the statement said. “This illegal attempt should be condemned by all Ethiopians and the federal government has full capacity to overpower this armed group.”
The situation in under full control of the federal government, according to the statement.
The failed coup was not “committed by any ethnic group but by ill-motivated individuals,” Abiy said wearing military fatigues during a televised news conference late Saturday.
He urged “all Ethiopians, both armed and not armed” to unite against “evil” forces attempting to divide the nation in Africa.
“A similar attempt was committed last year in June but we successfully overcame it,” Abiy said in reference to a grenade attack at a rally he attended in 2018.
Abiy came to power in 2018 after the resignation of Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, a tenure that included anti-government protests over economic and political exclusion.
But the premier’s shake-up of the military and intelligence services has earned him powerful enemies, while his government is struggling to rein in powerful figures in Ethiopia’s myriad ethnic groups fighting the federal government and each other for greater influence and resources.
Abiy is the first Oromo, which is Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group, to lead the country,
The U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa issued a security alert, saying it is aware of police and military activity in Addis Ababa and Bahir Dar
Meanwhile, U.S. Embassy tweeted it had heard reports of gunfire in Addis Ababa on Saturday night, and some residents told Reuters they heard six shots in a suburb near the country’s Bole International Airport around 9:30 p.m. local time.
The capital was quieter than usual on Sunday, with fewer cars or pedestrians on the streets.
Earlier 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.”
He did not give details about Asamnew.
Struggle for Reforms
Since coming to power, Abiy has released political prisoners, removed bans on political parties and prosecuted officials accused of gross human rights abuses, but his government is battling ethnic bloodshed once held in check by the state’s iron grip.
Now some of Ethiopia’s ethnic groups are disputing the boundaries of the country’s nine federal states, or arguing that they too should have regional governments, claims that threaten the dominance of other groups.
Amhara is home to Ethiopia’s second largest ethnic group of the same name and their native tongue, Amharic, is also the country’s official language. The anti-government protests that lasted three years and eventually forced former Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn to resign in 2018 had begun in the neighboring state of Oromia but quickly spread to Amhara.
Demonstrators were angered by grievances over land rights, political and economic marginalization – issues that Abiy is now racing to address.
“He (Abiy) seems to be dismantling the EPRDF (ruling coalition) and is entertaining thoughts of altering the architecture of federalism, but he hasn’t given any clear direction he’s heading in,” said Matt Bryden, the head of regional think-tank Sahan Research.
“That uncertainty is creating a lot of competition and … driving a lot of friction and violence.”
Abiy had also changed many senior security officials when he came to power, Bryden noted, creating more uncertainty that allowed armed groups that would once have been quashed to flourish.
Abiy’s changes have not gone unchallenged. A year ago, he survived a grenade attack that killed two people at his rally. In October, hundreds of soldiers marched on his palace demanding more pay. He defused the situation by doing push-ups with them but later said they were trying to derail reforms.
The internet was down across Ethiopia on Sunday, although there was no statement on this from the government. Authorities have cut off the internet several times previously for security and other reasons.
Ethiopia is due to hold parliamentary elections next year, although the electoral board warned earlier this month that they were behind schedule and that instability could cause a problem for polling. Several opposition groups have called for the elections to be held on time anyway.