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Ethiopia's army chief, high-ranking regional officials, killed in coup attempt in the north



ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – Ethiopia's chief of staff and the regional president of the northern state of Amhara were killed in two attacks when a general tried to take control of Amhara in a coup attempt, the PM said Sunday.

Amhara President Ambachew Mekonnen and his advisor were shot dead, and the Attorney General was wounded in Amharas capital Bahir Dar on Saturday night, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said.

In a separate but related attack that same night, Ethiopia's Chief of Staff Seare Mekonnen and another retired general were shot dead by his bodyguard at Seares House in Addis Ababa.

Abiy's office appointed General Asamnew Tsige, the head of state security of Amhara, as responsible for the foiled coup, without giving details of his whereabouts. Asamnew was released from prison last year after receiving an amnesty for a similar coup attempt, according to media reports.

Abiy has been in office a little more than a year ago, initiating unprecedented reforms in Ethiopia, Africa's second largest country and one of the fastest growing economies.

But the upheaval of the military and intelligence services by the prime minister has given him powerful enemies, while his government is struggling to curb growing ethnic violence, even in Amhara.

The Bahir Dar shootings took place when the President ̵

1; an ally of Abiy – held a meeting to decide on how to prevent Asamnew's open recruitment of ethnic militia, an Addis-based official told Reuters.

A week earlier, Asamnev had publicly advised the people of Amhara, Ethiopia's second-largest ethnic group, in a video distributed by a Reuters reporter on Facebook, to prepare to fight against other groups.

The residents of Bahir Dar indicated that shots were fired on Saturday night for at least four hours and that some roads were closed.

Abiy drew military clothes on Saturday night to announce the coup attempt on state television.

Early Sunday, Brigadier General Tefera Mamo, head of the Amhara Special Branch, told state television that "most people who attempted the coup were arrested, although there are still some left at liberty."

He gave no details about Asamnew.

FIGHT AGAINST REFORMS

Ever since Abiy came to power, he has released political prisoners, lifted bans on political parties, and charged with officials accused of grave human rights abuses.

Now, Ethiopia's countless ethnic groups are denying the borders of the country's nine states or arguing that they, too, should have regional governments that threaten the dominance of other groups.

"He (Abiy) seems to dismantle the EPRDF (governing coalition) and is thinking of changing the architecture of federalism, but he has not given a clear direction in which he wants to steer," said Matt Bryden, the head of regional think tank Sahan Research.

"This insecurity creates a lot of competition and … drives a lot of friction and violence."

Abiy had also changed many high-ranking security officials when he came to power, allowing armed groups that had once been suppressed to thrive. Seare was the third chief of staff that Abiy had appointed.

Abiy's changes have not gone unchallenged. One year ago, he survived a grenade attack that killed two people at his rally. In October, hundreds of soldiers marched on his palace and demanded more wages. He defused the situation by doing push-ups with them, but later said they were trying to derail reforms.

The Internet was down on Sunday across Ethiopia, although there was no government statement on the subject. The authorities have already closed the Internet several times for security reasons and for other reasons.

Ethiopia is scheduled to hold a national parliamentary election next year, although the board of directors of the Electoral Council warned earlier this month that they were behind schedule and that instability and displacement could be a problem for the vote. Several opposition groups have called for elections to be held on time.

Additional coverage by Katharine Houreld; Writing by Elias Biryabarema and Katharine Houreld; Edited by Raissa Kasolowsky

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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