Ethiopian army chief, regional president killed in ‘failed coup attempt’
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Ethiopian army chief, regional president killed in ‘failed coup attempt’

Internet in country cut amid reports of gunfire in capital overnight and unrest elsewhere, as government says it put down rebellion in Amhara state

In this image made from video, Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed announces a failed coup as he addresses the public on television, June 23, 2019 (ETV via AP)
In this image made from video, Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed announces a failed coup as he addresses the public on television, June 23, 2019 (ETV via AP)

Ethiopia’s army chief was shot dead by his bodyguard just hours after an attempted coup in Amhara state left the regional president and another top adviser dead, a spokeswoman for the prime minister said Sunday, after the government announced it had thwarted a regional coup.

The spokeswoman Billene Seyoum told journalists a “hit squad” led by Amhara’s security chief Asaminew Tsige burst into a meeting on Saturday afternoon, injuring regional president Ambachew Mekonnen and another top official. Both died of their wounds.

Later that evening in what appeared a “coordinated attack,” army chief Seare Mekonnen, and a retired general who was visiting him, were killed by his bodyguard, said Billene.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed appeared on television Sunday, dressed in military fatigues, as the government said it had thwarted an attempted coup in a regional state of the Horn of Africa nation.

The internet was cut in Ethiopia, and more details were not immediately available.

The United States embassy issued alerts about reported gunfire in the capital Addis Ababa, and violence around Amhara’s main city Bahir Dar.

“The embassy is aware of reports of gunfire in Addis Ababa. Chief of mission personnel are advised to shelter in place,” the embassy said in one of its two alerts.

Earlier, Abiy’s office announced that an attempted coup had taken place in Amhara, one of nine autonomous regions in the country.

A statement from his office did not give details on who was believed responsible for the attack, the latest blow to his efforts to stabilize and reform the Horn of Africa nation.

“The coup attempt in Amhara regional state is against the constitution and is intended to scupper the hard won peace of the region,” said the statement.

“This illegal attempt should be condemned by all Ethiopians and the federal government has full capacity to overpower this armed group.”

In Bahir Dar, capital of the Amhara region, young men protest against the ruling Tigrayan-led government, August 7, 2016 (Courtesy Micha Odenheimer)

No details were given of the targets of the attack in the second-most populous state in the country, headed by regional president Mekonen.

A journalist in the regional capital Bahir Dar told AFP shooting had begun shortly after sunset and continued for several hours before calming.

Since coming to power in April 2018 after two years of anti-government unrest, Abiy has been hailed for his efforts to end the ironfisted rule of his predecessors.

He has embarked on economic reforms, allowed dissident groups back into the country, sought to crack down on rights abuses and arrested dozens of top military and intelligence officials

He also sealed a peace deal with neighboring Eritrea, a longtime foe.

But he has battled a surge in tensions between ethnic groups in the diverse country — usually over land and resources — leading to deadly violence in the nation of more than 100 million people.

Over a million people have been displaced by the ethnic clashes, which analysts attribute to multiple causes, such as the weakening of the once all-powerful ruling EPRDF and different groups trying to take advantage of opportunities presented by the political transition.

The coup attempt comes a year after a grenade explosion at a rally Abiy was addressing left two people dead.

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