Head of the Ethiopian army, senior regional officials killed in the attempted northern coup

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ADDIS ABEBA (Reuters) – Ethiopia's chief of staff and regional president of the northern state of Amhara were killed in two related attacks when a general attempted to take control of Amhara in a coup attempt , said the prime minister's office today.

Amhara state president Ambachew Mekonnen and his adviser were killed and the state attorney general was injured in the capital of Amhara, Bahir Dar, on Saturday night, according to a statement by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed .

In a separate but related attack the same night, the Chief of Staff of the Ethiopian Seare Mekonnen and another retired general were shot dead at his Seare home in Addis Ababa from his bodyguard.

Abiy's office has appointed the head of security of the state of Amhara, General Asamnew Tsige, responsible for the foiled coup, without giving details of its location. Asamnew was released from prison last year after obtaining amnesty for a similar coup attempt, according to media reports.

Abiy took office just over a year ago and undertook unprecedented reforms in Ethiopia, the second most populous country in Africa and one of its fastest growing economies.

But the shock of the prime minister of military and intelligence services has earned him powerful enemies, while his government is struggling to contain the growing ethnic violence, including in Amhara.

Filming in Bahir Dar occurred when the state president – an ally of Abiy – was holding a meeting to decide how to curb Asamnew's open recruitment of ethnic militias, an Addis-based official told Reuters.

A week earlier, Asamnew had openly advised the people of Amhara, the second ethnic group in Ethiopia, to arm themselves in preparation for the fight against other groups, in a video released on Facebook and seen by a Reuters reporter.

Bahir Dar residents said there were at least four hours of shooting on Saturday night and some streets were closed.

Abiy wore a military suit to announce the attempted coup on state television Saturday night.

On Sunday, Brigadier General Tefera Mamo, head of Amhara's special forces, told state television that "most of the people who attempted the coup were arrested, although there are still some in general ".

He did not provide details on Asamnew.

FIGHT FOR REFORMS

Since coming to power, Abiy has released political prisoners, removed the ban on political parties and indicted officials accused of serious human rights violations, but his government is fighting the ethnic massacre once it has been held in check by the iron squeeze of the state .

Now some of the disputed Ethiopian ethnic groups are contending the borders of the country's nine federal states, or claiming that they too should have regional governments, statements that threaten the domination of other groups.

"He (Abiy) seems to be dismantling the EPRDF (government coalition) and is entertaining thoughts on the alteration of the architecture of federalism, but he has not given any clear direction in which he is heading", he said Matt Bryden, the head of the regional think-think Sahan Research.

"This uncertainty is creating a lot of competition and … it is causing a lot of friction and violence."

Abiy also changed many top security officials when he came to power, Bryden noted, creating more uncertainty that allowed armed groups that would once have been canceled to flourish. Seare was the third head of staff that Abiy had appointed.

Abiy's changes have not been challenged. A year ago, he survived an attack with a grenade that killed two people at his rally. In October, hundreds of soldiers marched on his building asking for more salaries. He defused the situation by doing push-ups with them but later said they were trying to derail reforms.

The internet has fallen throughout Ethiopia on Sunday, although no government statement has been issued on the matter. The authorities have interrupted the Internet connection several times for security reasons and other reasons.

Ethiopia should hold parliamentary national elections next year, although the council of the electoral commission warned earlier this month that they were late and that the instability and displacement could cause problems with the polls . Several opposition groups have called for elections to be held in time anyway.

Additional reporting by Katharine Houreld; Written by Elias Biryabarema and Katharine Houreld; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky

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