DOZENS of people were killed in fighting during a foiled coup in Ethiopia’s Amhara region at the weekend, the regional government spokesperson said on Wednesday, the first official report of significant clashes and a much higher toll than earlier reports.
A rogue regional militia unit attacked the police headquarters, president’s office and the ruling party headquarters in Amhara’s regional capital of Bahir Dar on Saturday, Asemahagh Aseres said on the sidelines of a state burial for three top regional officials who were killed.
The militia was made up of members of a recently recruited unit of the region’s security services, and had appealed for others to join its takeover but had been rebuffed, Asemahagh said.
‘They are part of our police. They are not independent,’ he told reporters. But ‘most of the forces were not with them. They defended [us] very well.’
The spokesperson said the militia had detained him when it took over a guesthouse for government officials.
It also tried to take over the region’s state media but failed. A journalist working there confirmed to Reuters that militia members had approached, but had withdrawn before firing at the building’s armed security.
Asemahagh’s comments that the militia were state forces rather than independent raises the stakes for the government of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who has rolled out a package of economic and political reforms since taking office in April 2018.
He has lifted a ban on political parties, released journalists, rebels and prisoners, and prosecuted officials accused of abuses. But his shake-up of the military and intelligence services has earned him powerful enemies at home.
His government is also struggling to contain discontent from Ethiopia’s myriad ethnic groups fighting the federal government and each other for greater influence and resources.