Ethiopia’s Army Chief, Top Regional Officials Killed in Northern Coup Attempt

June 23, 2019 Updated: June 23, 2019

ADDIS ABABA—Ethiopia’s army chief of staff and the regional president of the northern state of Amhara were killed in two related attacks when a general tried to seize control of Amhara in an attempted coup, the prime minister’s office said on Sunday, June 23.

Amhara state president Ambachew Mekonnen and his advisor were shot dead and the state’s attorney general was wounded in Amhara’s capital of Bahir Dar on Saturday evening, according to a statement from the office of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.

In a separate but related attack the same night, Ethiopia’s army Chief of Staff Seare Mekonnen and another retired general were shot dead in Seare’s home in Addis Ababa by his bodyguard.

Spokesperson of the Primer Minister of Ethiopia Negussu Tilaaun speaks during a joint press conference with Ethiopia’s Press Secretary, in Addis Ababa, on June 23, 2019. (Eduardo Soteras/AFP/Getty Images)

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

Abiy took office just over a year ago and embarked on reforms in Ethiopia, Africa’s second-most populous country and one of its fastest-growing economies.

But the premier’s shake-up of the military and intelligence services has earned him powerful enemies, while his government is struggling to contain growing ethnic violence, including in Amhara.

The shooting in Bahir Dar occurred when the state president—an ally of Abiy—was holding a meeting to decide how to rein in the open recruitment of ethnic militias by Asamnew, one Addis-based official told Reuters.

A week earlier, Asamnew had openly advised the Amhara people, Ethiopia’s second largest ethnic group, to arm themselves in preparation for fighting against other groups, in a video spread on Facebook and seen by a Reuters reporter.

Bahir Dar residents said there was at least four hours of gunfire on Saturday evening and some roads had been closed off.

Abiy donned military fatigues to announce the attempted coup on state television on Saturday evening.

Early on Sunday, Brigadier General Tefera Mamo, the head of special forces in Amhara, told state television that “most of the people who attempted the coup have been arrested, although there are a few still at large.”

He did not give details about Asamnew.

By Dawit Endeshaw

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