Coup bid in Ethiopia setback to reformist PM’s peace efforts

Ethiopia’s army chief was killed at his home by his own bodyguard in Addis Ababa on Saturday hours after a failed coup in the autonomous northern state of Amhara left the regional president (governor) and his adviser dead, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said in a televised address to the nation early on Sunday.

Besides Chief of Staff Seare Mekonnen, a retired military general, Gezai Abera, visiting him was also shot dead by the bodyguard who is now in custody.

Earlier, in Amhara’s main city Bahir Dar, regional president Ambachew Mekonnen, above, and his adviser, Ezez Wasie, were killed during a failed coup led by General Asamnew Tsige, head of security for Amhara.

The region’s attorney general Megbaru Kebede was wounded in the attack.

Mekonnen was holding a meeting with top officials on Saturday afternoon when armed men led by General Tsige burst into the venue and shot the president and his adviser, said Billene Seyoum, a Press secretary for Ahmed.

Mekonnen and others were discussing General Tsige’s attempts to raise ethnic tensions in the region when the attack took place.

Tsige was instigating people to take up arms against the government in a vast region where violence between ethnic groups had recently left dozens dead. To overthrow the government, he was recruiting ethnic militias into the army.  

Tsige had served a nine-year jail term for plotting another botched coup in the past. He was freed along with others by the previous government last year following appeals from public to release all political detainees.

There is no word yet on whether Tsige has been captured or killed.

Brigadier General Tefera Mamo, head of Special Forces in Amhara, said on Sunday that most people involved in the failed coup have been arrested and a search is underway to nab the rest.

Lake Ayalew has been named as the region’s acting president.

Calling the coup attempt unconstitutional, the prime minister’s office said the government will crush the forces behind it.

Ambachew was an important ally of Abiy and the failed coup is seen as an attempt to destabilise the country which was enjoying some peace under the new prime minister.

Abiy faces national election next year amid challenges from within the military as evidenced by the coup attempt.

Last year, soldiers protesting against poor pay planned to eliminate Abiy and a grenade attack at a public rally he was addressing nearly killed him.

Since his election last year, Abiy has lifted bans on political parties, allowed dissidents living in exile to return home, and prosecuted officials found guilty of human rights abuses.

He also put the country on the reform path and inked a historic peace deal with neighbouring Eritrea.

His main challenge now is to ease tensions between ethnic groups feuding over land and resources.

Ethiopia’s 102.5 million people come from some 80 different ethnic groups.