Nearly 250 people have been arrested in Ethiopia’s capital and the main city in its Amhara region since a coup attempt was foiled, state TV reported on Thursday.
Ethiopia has been on edge since twin attacks at the weekend in Addis Ababa and the city of Bahir Dar killed the army chief of staff, the region’s president and three other senior officials.
The violence, which the government says was part of a plot by a rogue general and his militia to take over Amhara, exposed how ethnic tensions are threatening the reform agenda of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.
The state-run Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation did not give any more details on who was arrested or when. But a party based in the northern region – the National Movement of Amhara (NAMA)- earlier said 56 of its members had been detained in Addis Ababa on Wednesday.
Ethiopia’s 42-year-old prime minister 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.
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.
Party spokesman Christian Tadele told Reuters 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.
Police did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The prime minister’s office told Reuters it was collecting information on the arrests and would respond later.
Also on Thursday, prominent journalist Eskinder Nega said that five fellow activists in a pressure group opposed to what it saw as the domination of the Oromo ethnic group in the capital had been arrested.
A judge on Wednesday granted police 28 days to investigate those detained in connection with the alleged coup plot, Eskinder told Reuters.
A local journalist in the courtroom confirmed his account to Reuters and said that the judge ordered the 28-day detention under the country’s anti-terrorism law.
Police did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
“This is a return to the past, this is exactly what the government was doing before the reforms began a year ago,” said Eskinder. “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, from Crisis Group.
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