Ethiopia’s government has vowed to secure ongoing democratic reforms, saying on Friday that the ‘attempted coup’ in the Amhara region would not affect prime minister Abiy Ahmed’s reform agenda.
The government said it continues to hunt for suspects, even after 255 people have been arrested in the wake of the weekend attacks that left five high-ranking officials dead.
Abiy’s office said evidence was uncovered that a series of weekend attacks in the capital Addis Ababa and northern Amhara state, had been part of “a larger plan”.
“So far, 212 people in Amhara region and 43 people in Addis Ababa have been arrested in connection with the attempted coup,” a spokesperson for Abiy told reporters in the capital.
“We have uncovered the weekend attacks were part of a larger plan and discovered documents,” to this effect.
The spokesperson said an operation to arrest suspected coup-plotters was ongoing, “and we believe some suspects may still be at large.”
An ethno-nationalist party in Amhara said more than 56 of its members and supporters have been arrested in Addis Ababa alone.
The country has been on high alert since weekend attacks killed the national army chief, a retired general and three senior regional officials dead.
The violence has underscored the pressure on Abiy, who has pursued democratic and economic reforms that critics say have brought to the surface long-running ethnic tensions and territorial disputes, leaving the country divided and wracked by ethnic fighting.
“These attempts won’t derail the reforms, rather would accelerate the reforms and the government is committed to solidifying the reform process,” said the prime ministerial spokesperson.
The government claims Amhara security chief Asaminew Tsige led an attempt to kill “a wide array of government officials”.
On Saturday in Bahir Dar, the state capital, gunmen entered a meeting of top Amhara officials and opened fire, killing the regional president, his top adviser and the attorney general.
A few hours later in Addis Ababa, some 500 kilometres (310 miles) away, army chief Seare Mekonnen was shot dead by his bodyguard.
A retired general visiting him was also killed.
“Destructive forces have ignored the government’s mercy and kindness to commit an act of treason,” the government’s Security and Justice Taskforce said in a statement late Thursday, adding two heavy machine guns and 27 automatic rifles were seized in the roundup of suspects.
Asaminew, described by analysts as a hardline Amhara nationalist, has been accused of trying to raise a militia.
He was released from prison last year after serving nearly a decade behind bars for another failed plot to seize power, and was shot dead on Monday while on the run.
The latest violence is being interpreted as a backlash to Abiy’s efforts to lead democratic reforms in Africa’s second-most populous nation, scheduled to hold elections next year.
Observers say the prime minister’s breakneck reforms have severely weakened the unity of the once all-powerful ruling party.
EBC television reported Friday the government has appointed General Adem Mohammed to replace the slain army chief.