Nearly 250 individuals have been detained in the capital of Ethiopia and the primary town in its Amhara region since a coup attempt was foiled, state TV revealed on Thursday.
Ethiopia has been on the brink since twin attacks in Addis Abeba on the weekend and the town of Bahir Dar murdered the chief of employees of the military, the president of the region and three other senior officials.
The violence, which the government claims was part of a plot by a rogue general and his militia to take over Amhara, revealed how ethnic tensions are threatening Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s reform agenda.
The state-run Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation gave no more information about who was detained or when.
But a party based in the northern region— Amhara’s National Movement (NAMA)—earlier said 56 of its members were arrested in Addis Ababa on Wednesday.
Ethiopia’s 42-year-old prime minister has earned praise overseas for opening up one of the most closed countries on the continent, but analysts say the fast changes have fuelled uncertainty and insecurity.
As a consequence, ethnocentric groups like NAMA are gaining growing assistance and their rhetoric is fueling severe inter-ethnic violence, the worldwide think-tank Crisis Group said in a briefing note this week.
Since its inception last year, NAMA has appeared in the governing coalition as a competitor to the Amhara party, which has held authority in Ethiopia since 1991. NAMA has condemned the violence of the weekend and rejects any connection to it.
Party spokesman Christian Tadele informed Reuters that he had also received reports of arrests of Amhara people in four cities in the Oromiya region. These, along with the party members ‘ arrests, “were perpetrated against the Amharas because of their identity,” he said. He didn’t elaborate.
Also on Thursday, prominent author Eskinder Nega said that five fellow activists in a pressure group opposed to what he saw as the dominance of the capital’s Oromo ethnic group had been detained.
A Wednesday judge granted police 28 days to investigate those arrested in connection with the suspected coup plot, Eskinder informed Reuters.
“This is a return to the past, this is precisely what the government was doing before the reforms started a year ago,” Eskinder said. “In the previous age, the anti-terror law was used to fight peaceful opposition, and the same thing is happening.”