Ethiopian army chief, killed in coup attempt

Addis Ababa: Ethiopia's army chief and the president of a key region have been shot dead in a wave of violence highlighting the political instability in the country as Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed tries to push through reforms.

The latest unrest in the Horn of Africa nation flared on Saturday afternoon in Amhara, one of nine autonomous regions, when a "hit squad" attacked a meeting of top officials, Abiy's office said Sunday.

Spokeswoman Billene Seyoum told journalists the attack was led by Amhara's security chief Asaminew Tsige, and resulted in regional president Ambachew Mekonnen and another top official being shot.

The men were "gravely injured in the attack and later died of their wounds," she said. "Several hours later in what seems like a co-ordinated attack, the chief of the staff of the national security forces Seare Mekonnen was killed in his home by his bodyguard" in the capital Addis Ababa, she added. Also shot dead was a retired general who had been visiting him, Billene added.

The bodyguard has been apprehended while Asaminew is still on the loose, sources said. The link between the two attacks were not immediately clear. The internet has been cut nationwide since Saturday evening, after being severed for much of the previous week.

A journalist in the regional capital Bahir Dar told AFP shooting had begun shortly after sunset and continued for several hours before ceasing. The United States embassy issued alerts about reported gunfire in the capital Addis Ababa, and violence around Amhara's main city Bahir Dar.

An analyst said Saturday's incident showed the seriousness of the political crisis in Ethiopia, where efforts by Abiy to loosen the iron-fisted grip of his predecessors and push through reforms has unleashed a wave of unrest. "These tragic incidents unfortunately demonstrate the depth of Ethiopia's political crisis," said International Crisis Group analyst William Davison.

"It is now critical that actors across the country do not worsen the instability by reacting violently or trying to exploit this unfolding situation for their own political ends," the expert said.

Amhara in Ethiopia's northern highlands, is the homeland of the ethnic group by the same name, and is the birthplace of many of its emperors as well as the national language Amharic.

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