Memorial for slain Ethiopian army Chief of Staff

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Ethiopia held a memorial for the army chief of staff killed along with four senior officials in weekend attacks posing a major threat to the prime minister’s reform plans.

Abiy Ahmed, who survived a grenade attack at a rally last year, was in the front row at the memorial and wiped tears from his eyes.

Abiy took power 15 months ago and won widespread international praise for kick-starting political and economic reforms. His shake-up of the military and intelligence services earned him powerful enemies at home.

His government struggles to contain discontent in Ethiopia’s myriad ethnic groups fighting the federal government and each other for greater influence and resources.

The foiled plot to seize control of northern Amhara and assassinations in national capital Addis Ababa underscore the spiralling violence in Africa’s second-most populous nation.

In addition to killing the chief of staff in the capital, Amhara state president Ambachew Mekonnen and an adviser were killed in the region’s main city Bahir Dar.

The attacks were led by Amhara’s head of state security General Asamnew Tsige, who had been openly recruiting fighters for ethnic militias in a state that has become a flashpoint for violence.

Asamnew, the alleged coup plotter, was shot on Monday near Bahir Dar, according to the prime minister’s office.

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Hundreds of soldiers and officers in uniform gathered for the ceremony in a hall in central Addis Ababa.

Roads in the capital were blocked and security was tight. Access to the internet appeared to be blocked across Ethiopia for the third straight day, users reported.

The coffins of army chief of staff Seare Mekonnen and a retired general, both shot dead by Seare’s bodyguard, were wheeled into the hall draped in Ethiopian flags.

Photographs of the men in formal military dress were adorned with yellow roses. Seare will be buried in his home region Tigray.

At the memorial, army deputy chief of staff General Birhanu Jula spoke of the chief of staff’s bravery in the guerrilla war against the Communist Derg regime toppled in 1991 and his leadership role in Ethiopia’s war against Eritrea in the late 1990s.

The weekend killings came as Ethiopia prepares for parliamentary elections next year, although the electoral board warned this month they were behind schedule and instability could delay polling.

Ethiopia analysts say the prime minister must tread carefully as he tries to restore security. Too strong a response risks derailing reforms and angering a polarised population. Failure to punish those responsible could see violence spiral out of control.

Mehari Taddele Maru, an independent Ethiopian analyst, said government should channel public anger through dialogue, but if ethnic rivalries spread to the federal armed forces it could destroy the state, he said.