Ethiopia’s army chief and a top local leader have been shot dead during an attempt to overthrow a regional government in the north of the country, underscoring political instability as Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed tries to reform the nation.
Ethiopia’s army chief, 3 other officials killed in renegade general’s coup attempt, government says https://t.co/QXea5RnR4r
— The Washington Post (@washingtonpost) June 23, 2019
Violence flared on Saturday afternoon in Amhara, one of nine autonomous regions, when a “hit squad” attacked a meeting of top officials, Abiy’s office said Sunday.
Ethiopian Spokeswoman Billene Seyoum told journalists the Amhara “coup attempt” was led by local security chief Asaminew Tsige, who was only last year released from almost a decade in prison over a 2009 coup plot.
State president Ambachew Mekonnen, as well as his advisor, were “gravely injured in the attack and later died of their wounds,” she said, adding that the regional attorney general had been seriously wounded.
Since coming to power in 2018, Abiy has won praise for his reforms to open up the country from the iron grip of his predecessors
“Several hours later in what seems like a coordinated attack, the chief of the staff of the national security forces Seare Mekonnen was killed in his home by his bodyguard”, she said.
Seare and a visiting retired general were shot dead in his home in the upmarket Bole district of Addis Ababa, home to diplomats, aid workers and expats.
The bodyguard has been apprehended while Asaminew was still on the loose, sources said.
Heading to Anarchy
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was “deeply concerned” about the deadly violence, his spokesperson said.
The UN chief “calls on all Ethiopian stakeholders to demonstrate restraint, prevent violence and avoid any action that could undermine the peace and stability of Ethiopia,” while calling for the perpetrators to be brought to justice, spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said in a statement.
.@antonioguterres is deeply concerned by this weekend’s events in Ethiopia. The United Nations remains committed to supporting the Government of Ethiopia in its efforts to address ongoing challenges. https://t.co/I60qEZugdd
— UN Spokesperson (@UN_Spokesperson) June 23, 2019
There was a heavy police presence outside Seare’s house on Sunday, as mourners, some dressed in black, streamed to his house to pay their respects.
A parking attendant, who asked not to be named, said he heard about 10 minutes of gunfire at the residence at 9:00 pm local time on Saturday before security officers arrived.
Gedrekiristos Tessaye, 30, said he had come to pay respects to honor Seare’s service to the country.
“I am so worried, I want Ethiopia to be an ambassador of peace and democracy but this kind of event shows that we are heading to anarchy,” he said.
Elsewhere in the capital it appeared a normal, quiet Sunday, with shops and restaurants open, however, there was heavy security outside Abiy’s offices.
According to the statement from Abiy’s office, the situation in Amhara region was “currently under full control”.
Since coming to power in 2018, Abiy has won praise for his reforms to open up the country from the iron grip of his predecessors, but his moves have also brought to the surface long-running ethnic tensions and territorial disputes.
The prime minister took to national television in military fatigues in the early hours of Sunday morning.
“The people of Ethiopia do not believe in silencing, killing and claiming power by spilling the blood of their brothers and sisters,” he said.
“They don’t accept totalitarian regimes. They’ve shown that through a common struggle.”
No Sign of Broader Coup
The link between the two attacks and their motives were not immediately clear.
“We don’t know what the broader intentions of the attackers were,” International Crisis Group analyst William Davison told AFP. “There are no clear signs of a broader coup attempt in Addis.”
The internet has been cut nationwide since Saturday evening, after being severed for much of the previous week.
Deep Political Crisis
Amhara, in Ethiopia’s northern highlands, is the homeland of the ethnic group by the same name, and the birthplace of many of its emperors as well as the national language Amharic.
The Amhara are the second-largest ethnic grouping after the Oromo, and both spearheaded two years of anti-government protests which led to the resignation of former prime minister Hailemariam Desalegn.
Statement from the government of Ethiopia on the attempted coup in Amhara and the killing of the president of the Amhara regional government as well as the chief of staff of the Ethiopian army. #Ethiopia #ethiopiacoup pic.twitter.com/hG72TMjjQc
— African Spectator (@AfroSpectator) June 23, 2019
Abiy, an Oromo, took power in April 2018 and has been lauded for a string of efforts to reform a nation which has known only the authoritarian rule of emperors and strongmen.
He also sealed a peace deal with neighboring Eritrea, a longtime foe.
Eritrea’s Information Minister Yemane Meskel expressed his condolences over the killings on Twitter.
The Government of Eritrea has conveyed its message of condolence to the Government & people of Ethiopia on the killing, in a failed coup attempt, of the President Amhara Regional Government, his advisor, Chief of Staff of Ethiopia's National Defense Forces and Maj. Gen.(Rt) Gezai
— Yemane G. Meskel (@hawelti) June 23, 2019
Longstanding tensions among more than 80 ethnic groups have burst into the open, often over land and resources in Africa’s second most populous nation, leaving over a million displaced in clashes.
Ethiopia’s 1995 constitution, written by the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) after it unseated the Derg military junta in 1991, partitioned the country into nine autonomous regions with borders following ethnic lines.
Observers say that Abiy’s plans to hold an election in 2020 have stirred up bitter rivalries among politicians in the regions and seen a rise in ethnonationalism.
AFP with additional input by GVS news desk