BAHIR DAR, Ethiopia (Reuters) - Dozens of people were killed in fighting during a foiled coup in Ethiopia’s Amhara region at the weekend, the regional government spokesman 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 told Reuters 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 take-over but been rebuffed, Asemahagh said.
“They are part of our police. They are not independent,” he told Reuters. “(But) most of the forces were not with them. They defended (us) very well.”
The spokesman said the militia had detained him when it took over a guesthouse for government officials and also tried and failed to take over the region’s state media.
A journalist working there confirmed to Reuters that militia members had approached, but withdrawn before firing at the building’s armed security.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 last year.
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.
Additional reporting by Kumerra Gemechu in Mekelle; Writing by Katharine Houreld; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Alison Williams