A powerful party in Ethiopia’s government accused authorities of arresting members of its ethnic group in a politically-driven crackdown – an unprecedented public charge exposing rifts at the heart of the ruling elite.
The accusation marked growing tensions between elements in the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) – a movement that dominated Ethiopia for decades – and new reformist prime minister Abiy Ahmed who upended politics with a string of radical reforms.
At least 79 security officers, officials, businessmen and women, many Tigrayan, have been arrested since last week – under what government said was a clamp-down on corruption and mistreatment of prisoners.
Amnesty International and other rights groups welcomed the arrests. TPLF chair Debretsion Gebremichael said the arrests ordered under “the pretext of corruption and human rights and are used to attack Tigrayans”.
The prime minister’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Debretsion’s remarks.
Abiy’s rise – as Ethiopia’s first leader from the majority Oromo group – transformed decades-old hierarchies in the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) coalition founded by the TPLF. It came to power in 1991.
Soon after Abiy was inaugurated in April, he made peace with long-time foe Eritrea and pushed reforms meant to rein in the military and security services and limit their involvement in the economy – changes largely welcomed by Western powers.
The TPLF’s Debretsion did not spell out who was behind the arrests, announced by government’s attorney general. “There is a foreign involvement in the process. Thus, it is unacceptable,” he said, without giving further details.
Debretsion picked out last week’s arrest of Kinfe Dagnew, a Tigrayan major general in the army and former chief executive of the METEC military-led conglomerate.
“While Kinfe was arrested peacefully, they handcuffed him. This is a political attack,” Debretsion told a news conference.
“While they should have gone after an individual, they went after an ethnic group and a party,” he said in comments aired by Dimtsi Woyane TV.
Kinfe and others appeared in court but have not been charged or entered any pleas. There have been no statements from them or lawyers representing them.