ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – Police have arrested 56 members of an ethnic Ethiopian party over a failed coup in the northern Amhara region, a spokesman for the party said on Thursday.
The arrests took place in the capital Addis Ababa on Wednesday said Christian Tadele, whose National Movement of Amhara (NAMA) has become increasingly popular among the ethnic group that comprises around a quarter of Ethiopia’s population.
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 has won praise abroad for opening up one of the continent’s most closed nations, but analysts say the rapid changes have fueled 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 told Reuters 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.
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 domination of the Oromo 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 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, an Ethiopia analyst at Crisis Group.
Reporting by Dawit Endeshaw; Additional reporting by Maggie Fick; Writing by Maggie Fick and Katharine Houreld; Editing by Alison Williams and Jon Boyle