ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – Ethiopia's chief of staff and at least three other high-ranking officials were killed in a coup attempt by an army general in Amhara state on Sunday, state television said.
Amharas President Ambachev Mekonnen and his advisor were also killed, according to state media calling the area's chief of security, General Asamnew Tsige, the coup attempt coordinator.
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed's administration faces growing pressure from regional rulers, including in Amhara, a hotbed of increasing ethnic violence in Ethiopia.
The shootings took place when federal officials met the President – an ally of Abiy – to discuss how to prevent the open recruitment of ethnic militias by Asamnew, an Addis-based official told Reuters.
A week earlier, Asamnew had publicly advised the Amhara people, one of Ethiopia's larger ethnic groups, to arm themselves on a video spread on Facebook and seen by a Reuters reporter.
Ethiopia, a nation of 1
Abiyon made military efforts late Saturday to state on state television that there had been a coup attempt that day in Amharas capital, Bahir Dar, and that Ethiopia's chief of staff, Seare Mekonnen, was among the victims.
"He was shot dead by people close to him," Abiy said.
Seare was shot dead by his bodyguard on Sunday, state media reported. Most of the perpetrators had been arrested, a General for Special Forces in Amhara General Sunday said the state media.
Since Abiy came to power last year, he has been trying to drive political reform in the Horn of Africa. Three years of political violence led to the unprecedented resignation of Abiy's predecessor Hailemariam Desalegn.
Abiy has released political prisoners, suspended party bans, and accused officials accused of serious human rights abuses, but his government is fighting against increasing violence.
Ethnic bloodshed – long held at bay by the iron grip of the state – has flared up in many areas, including Amhara, where the regional government of Mekonnen was run.
On Saturday, the US Embassy said it was aware of reports of gunfire in Addis Ababa. Some residents told Reuters that in a suburb near Bole International Airport, around 6:30 pm, six shots were fired. Local time on Saturday. The government did not respond immediately to comments.
People in many parts of Ethiopia said they would not be able to access the Internet from the end of Saturday, even though the government did not say if it shut down the Internet. In the past, authorities have blocked the Internet several times for security and other reasons.
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."
Residents of Amharas capital, Bahir Dar, said there were shots fired on some parts of the city late Saturday, and that some streets were closed.
Ethiopia will hold a national parliamentary election next year. Several opposition groups have called for elections to be punctually held despite the disturbances and expulsions.
Additional coverage by Katharine Houreld; Writing by Elias Biryabarema and Katharine Houreld; Edited by Raissa Kasolowsky