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Dozens of Amhara party members arrested after Ethiopia coup attempt, spokesman says

Tiksa Negeri, REUTERS file picture | Police officers patrol along a road in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on February 21, 2018.

Dozens of members of Ethiopia’s ethno-nationalist Amhara state party have been arrested by police following last week’s failed coup attempt in the region, a party spokesman said on Thursday.

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Christian Tadele, a spokesperson for the National Movement of Amhara (NAMA), said that 56 party members and sympathisers had been arrested in the capital, Addis Ababa, on Wednesday, and that “dozens” more had been arrested in the ethnically-based Oromia region, which borders Amhara. The Amhara ethnic group comprises around a quarter of Ethiopia’s population.

"The campaign of arrests against NaMa members and sympathisers isn't just directed against a party, but is also an identity-based attack," Tadele said.

Neither police nor the prime minister’s office immediately responded to requests for comment on the purported arrests.

Ethiopia has been on edge since twin attacks at the weekend killed the army chief of staff and four other senior officials, including the president of the Amhara region.

The violence, which the government says was orchestrated by a rogue general and his state militia in Amhara, exposed how ethnic tensions are threatening the reform agenda of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.

The 42-year-old leader has won praise abroad for opening up one of the continent’s most closed nations, but analysts say the rapid changes have fuelled uncertainty and insecurity in many parts of Africa’s second-most populous nation.

As a result, ethnocentric parties like NAMA are gaining increasing support and their rhetoric is stoking serious inter-ethnic violence, global think-tank Crisis Group said this week in a briefing note.

Since its founding last year, NAMA has emerged as a rival to the Amhara party in the ruling coalition, which has held power in Ethiopia since 1991. NAMA has condemned the weekend violence and denies any link to it.

The party spokesman said that he had also received reports of arrests of Amhara people in four towns in Oromiya region. These, and the arrests of the party members, “were perpetrated against the Amharas because of their identity,” he said. He did not elaborate.

‘A return to the past’

Also on Thursday, prominent journalist Eskinder Nega said that five fellow activists in a pressure group opposed to domination of the Oromia ethnic group had been arrested.

A judge on Wednesday granted police 28 days to investigate those detained in connection with the alleged coup plot, Eskinder said.

“This is a return to the past, this is exactly what the government was doing before the reforms began a year ago,” he said. “In that past era, the anti-terror law was used to clamp down against peaceful opposition and the same thing is happening.”

Access to the internet, blocked since Saturday, was restored across Ethiopia on Thursday morning and Ethiopia analysts say the prime minister must tread carefully to restore security.

“It will damage the government’s reputation if it is widely perceived as engaging in anything that looks like a purge of rivals or a crackdown on opponents in the aftermath of these assassinations”, said William Davison, an Ethiopia analyst at Crisis Group.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)

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