An attempted coup on Saturday claimed the lives of four top Ethiopian leaders.  The army chief of staff, General Seare Mekonnen, and retired Major General Gezai Abera were killed at Seare’s home by his bodyguard in the country’s capital Addis Ababa.

Earlier in Bahir Dar, the capital of Amhara, the region’s president Ambachew Mekonnen and Amhara regional government office adviser Ezez Wassie had been shot dead. The region’s attorney general, Migbaru Kebede, received serious injuries and is in hospital.

Ethiopia’s prime minister Abiy Ahmed blamed the attempted coup on a brigadier general named Asaminew Tsige and others. Tsige has been serving as the regional government’s Peace and Security Bureau head after being given amnesty and released from prison last year.

Billene Seyoum, the prime minister’s spokesman, was quoted as saying a “hit squad” led by Tsige invaded a meeting where the governor was and shot him dead. He and another officer died trying to prevent a coup attempt against the administration in Ethiopia’s northern Amhara region.

Amhara, located in the northwestern part of Ethiopia, is one of nine regional states in the country.

The Ethiopian leader, dressed in military fatigues, assured the public during a televised press conference on Saturday that the failed coup was not “committed by any ethnic group but by ill-motivated individuals.”

He called on “all Ethiopians, both armed and not armed” to stand with the government and provide information to “defend the unity of our country.”

“A similar attempt was committed last year in June but we successfully overcame it,” Abiy said in reference to a grenade attack at a rally he attended in 2018.

Ethnic violence has been on the rise in Amhara and other parts of Ethiopia in recent years.

The prime minister’s shake-up of the military is said to have earned him “powerful enemies”, while his government is struggling to contain the ethnic violence.

Abiy came to power in 2018, following the resignation of Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, after years of anti-government protests over economic and political exclusion, and led by the Oromo, Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group.

Ethiopia is the only country in Africa that was never colonised. It is also the next most populous after Nigeria with 103 million people from more than 80 different ethnic groups.

— With agency reports

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