ADDIS ABABA — Ethiopia’s military chief was shot to death by his bodyguard amid a failed coup attempt against a regional government north of the capital, Addis Ababa, the prime minister said Sunday.
The abortive coup Saturday in the Amhara region was led by a high-ranking military officer and others in the armed forces, said Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who addressed the nation on state TV at 2 a.m. while wearing fatigues.
The soldiers attacked a building where a meeting of regional officials was taking place, said Nigussu Tilahun, a spokesman for the prime minister. The regional governor and an adviser were killed, while the attorney general was wounded, he said.
Not long after afterward, army chief Gen. Seare Mekonnen who assassinated at his home in Addis Ababa, and a retired army general visiting him was also killed, the spokesman said.
“There is a link between the two attacks,” Nigussu said without elaborating.
The attack in Bahir Dar, the capital of Amhara, was led by a renegade brigadier who had recently been pardoned by the prime minister after being jailed by the previous government, authorities said. Most of the perpetrators were captured, and others were being hunted down, the spokesman said.
The brigadier remained at large, according to two officials who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.
Addis Ababa was peaceful on Sunday as soldiers stood guard in Meskel Square and set up roadblocks throughout the city. Ethiopia’s internet appeared to be shut down.
The attempted coup was the latest challenge to Abiy, who was elected last year.
The 42-year-old Abiy has captured the imagination of many with his political and economic reforms, including the surprise acceptance of a peace agreement with Eritrea, the opening of major state-owned sectors to private investment and the release of thousands of prisoners, including opposition figures once sentenced to death.
Last June, a grenade meant for Abiy wounded many people at a big rally. Nine police officials were arrested, state media reported. In October, rebellious soldiers protested over pay and invaded Abiy’s office, but the prime minister was able to defuse the situation.
Ethiopia is a key regional ally of the U.S. in the restive Horn of Africa region.
Tibor Nagy, U.S. assistant secretary of state for Africa, said the latest violence was a “shock, but it could have turned out so much worse,” adding: “Thankfully Prime Minister Abiy escaped this attempt, because there are many, many more people in Ethiopia who support his reforms than those who are opposed to them.”
Speaking in South Africa, Nagy said “there are vestiges of the old regime” who are opposed to Abiy.
“I wish I could say that this is will be the last of these attempts, but no one can be certain,” Nagy said.
In Addis Ababa, politicians and government officials went to the home of the slain army chief to offer condolences to his family.
Story: Elias Meseret. Andrew Meldrum in Pretoria, South Africa, contributed to this report.