An Ethiopian holds 'The Reporter' newspaper showing pictures of assassinated president of the Ahmara region, Ambachew Mekonen (left), and army chief Gen Sere Mekonen, in Addis Ababa, June 24 2019. Picture: EDUARDO SOTERAS/AFP
An Ethiopian holds 'The Reporter' newspaper showing pictures of assassinated president of the Ahmara region, Ambachew Mekonen (left), and army chief Gen Sere Mekonen, in Addis Ababa, June 24 2019. Picture: EDUARDO SOTERAS/AFP

Addis Ababa — The man accused of trying to seize control of Ethiopia’s northern Amhara region was shot dead on Monday, a senior government official said, and a number of other plotters have been arrested.

The government accused Gen Asamnew Tsige of masterminding gun attacks on Saturday night in which five people including the national army’s chief of staff and Amhara’s state president, were killed.

Asamnew was shot on Monday near Amhara’s capital, Bahir Dar, the prime minister’s press secretary, Negussu Tilahun, said. He declined to give any other details.

The reasons behind the attempted coup in the state remain unclear, although it may have been a reaction from Asamnew to a plan by state officials to rein him in after they were alarmed by reports of his ethnic rhetoric and recruitment of militias.

Saturday’s violence unfolded in two separate attacks. Army chief of staff Seare Mekonnen and a retired general were shot by Seare’s bodyguard at his residence in the national capital, Addis Ababa.

Amhara state president Ambachew Mekonnen and an adviser were killed in Bahir Dar. Amhara’s attorney-general was also shot and died of his wounds on Monday, state media reported.

Access to the internet appeared to be blocked across Ethiopia, users reported. The streets of Addis Ababa appeared calm on Monday.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has pushed through sweeping changes since coming to power in April 2018, making peace with Eritrea, reining in the security services, releasing political prisoners and lifting bans on some outlawed separatist groups.

The reforms in Africa’s second-most populous country have won him widespread international praise. But the premier’s shake-up of the military and intelligence services has earned him powerful enemies at home, while his government is struggling to contain powerful figures in Ethiopia’s myriad ethnic groups fighting the federal government and each other for greater influence and resources.

Ethnic militias

The shooting in Bahir Dar at the weekend occurred when the state president — an ally of Abiy — was holding a meeting to decide how to stop Asamnew’s open recruitment of ethnic Amhara militias, one Addis-based official said.

Asamnew had told the Amhara people to arm themselves and prepare for fighting against other groups, in a video spread on Facebook a week earlier. Amhara is home to Ethiopia’s second-largest ethnic group and gives its name to the state language, Amharic.

Asamnew was released from prison in 2018 after receiving an amnesty for a similar coup attempt.

William Davison, an Ethiopia analyst at global think-tank Crisis Group, said more information is needed on the attack on Seare.

Reforms stoke  tensions

“It doesn’t appear to have been a concerted national coup attempt. It’s not obvious what the motivations were for anyone to assassinate the chief of staff, or whether he had any connections to the violence in Bahir Dar,” he said. “More detail is needed on that aspect.”

Long-simmering ethnic tensions in Amhara and other areas has surged since Abiy’s reforms. At least 2.4-million people have fled fighting, according to the UN.

Ethiopia will observe a day of national mourning on Monday, parliament speaker Tagesse Chafo said on state television.

Ethiopia is due to hold parliamentary elections in 2019, although the electoral board warned earlier in June that they are behind schedule and that instability could cause a problem for polling.
Reuters