Ethiopia said there was a failed coup attempt against the head of one of the country’s nine regional states on Saturday, underscoring the challenges facing the new prime minister as he tries to spearhead political reforms amid widespread unrest.
“There was an organized coup attempt in Bahir Dar but it failed,” Negussu Tilahun, spokesman for Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, told state TV on Saturday, referring to the regional capital of Amhara state.
He said efforts were under way to apprehend the coup plotters, who he said attempted to oust Ambachew Mekonnen, the regional government head in Amhara, north of the capital Addis Ababa.
It was unclear who might be behind the unrest, and no group had publicly claimed responsibility.
Three residents of Bahir Dar, who asked not to be named because they feared for their safety, said they heard gunfire.
One said it erupted in the town at around 6:30 p.m. (1530 GMT) and continued for some time.
“There is gunfire … roads to the area where we are hearing the gunfire are closed,” the resident told Reuters by phone.
A lecturer at the university told Reuters at around 10:00 p.m. that the gunfire had lasted at least four hours so far.
“I first thought it was just a normal kind of incident and then we began to hear heavy gunfire,” he said.
The third resident, a woman, said she could hear gunfire from her house and that transport in the city had stopped.
Army chief of staff shot dead
In the same chaotic evening, the National Defence Force Chief of Staff, Seare Mekonnen was shot dead.
Seare Mekonnen became Ethiopia Defence Force Chief of Staff a year ago on June 7th 2018.
Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed says Seare who took over from General Samora Younis from 2001 to 2018 was shot following unrest in the northern Amhara region.
Appearing on TV dressed in military fatigues, Mr Abiy also said several officials had been killed in an attack in the Amhara regional capital Bahir Dar.
Earlier the government said there had been an “attempted coup” in Amhara. Reports say the internet is down in the country.
Mr Ahmed was elected last year and has moved to end political repression in Ethiopia by releasing political prisoners, removing bans on political parties and prosecuting officials accused of rights abuses.
But since he has come to power, ethnic violence has re-emerged and has left 2.4 million Ethiopians displaced, the UN says.
US Security Alert
The U. S. Embassy Addis Ababa, Ethiopia said it was aware of reports of gunfire in Addis Ababa.
Chief of Mission personnel were advised to shelter in place, employ sound security practices, remain aware of in their surroundings, including local events and avoid large gatherings and demonstrations; monitor local news stations; and follow the instructions of local authorities.