ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - Ethiopian authorities on Friday arrested the spokesman of a political party promoting the interests of the Amhara ethnic group, the party president said, in a move linked to what the government has described as a failed regional coup attempt.
The government confirmed more than 260 arrests in total, which it said were related to the failed attempted power grab on Saturday in the region of Amhara.
Christian Tadele of the National Movement of Amhara (NAMA) was arrested in his home region of Amhara, party president Desalegn Chane told Reuters. NAMA was founded last year and has become an increasingly popular rival to the Amhara party that is part of the national ruling coalition.
“Our spokesman is arrested along with the other three members of the party,” he said. “We are trying to communicate with the regional officials asking for their release.”
On Friday afternoon, the Ethiopian prime minister’s office tweeted, “212 suspects apprehended in connection with the coup attempt in the Amhara region while 43 individuals detained in Addis Ababa - investigations still ongoing with potential for more arrests.”
Dozens of people were killed when a rogue state militia tried to seize power in Amhara’s capital Bahir Dar, the spokesman for the Amhara region has said.
The region’s president, his aide and the attorney general were all shot dead. The same night, the army’s chief of staff and a retired general with him were killed in the capital Addis Ababa in a related attack, the government said.
The head of Ethiopia’s National Intelligence and Security Service, Adem Mohammed, has been appointed army chief of staff, the office of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said on Friday.
Demelash Gebremichael was selected to replace Adem as the intelligence service chief, Abiy’s office said. Adem was the air force head before his intelligence appointment a year ago.
The violence a week ago was the strongest challenge yet to the rule of Abiy, who has rolled out a series of political reforms in what was once one of Africa’s most repressive nations since coming to power in April 2018.
He has released political prisoners and journalists and unbanned political parties, offered an amnesty for some rebel groups and opened the space for a plethora of parties ahead of next year’s parliamentary elections.
But his government has also presided over an explosion of ethnic violence, as regional powerbrokers try to grab more power and territory and air long-held grievances against the ruling coalition. More than 2.4 million of Ethiopia’s 100 million citizens are displaced.
The prime minister must tread a delicate line between allowing violence to flourish with impunity or returning to the previous administration’s strategy of sweeping crackdowns, analysts say.
“Reports of the arrest of opposition members in various locations suggest there was a broader plot against the government, but this has not been substantiated yet by the authorities,” said William Davison, from Crisis Group.
“Alternatively, it could indicate that the government is now unwilling to tolerate certain types of opposition activity amid the new security environment that has resulted from the assassinations.”
Writing by Katharine Houreld, Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky, William Maclean