Nearly 250 people have been arrested in Ethiopia’s capital and the main city in Amhara region since a foiled coup attempt, state TV reported.
Ethiopia has been on edge since twin weekend attacks in Addis Ababa and Bahir Dar killed the army chief of staff, the region’s president and three senior officials.
The violence, which government says is part of a plot by a rogue general and his militia to take over Amhara, exposed how ethnic tensions threaten the reform agenda of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.
The state-run Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation did not give further details on the arrests. A party in the northern region – the National Movement of Amhara (NAMA)- earlier said 56 of its members were detained in Addis Ababa.
Ethiopia’s 42-year-old prime minister won praise abroad for opening up one of the continent’s most closed nations, but analysts say the rapid changes fuel uncertainty and insecurity.
As a result, ethnocentric parties like NAMA gain increasing support and their rhetoric is stoking inter-ethnic violence, global think-tank Crisis Group said this week in a briefing note.
Since its founding last year, NAMA emerged as a rival to the Amhara party in the ruling coalition, which has held power in Ethiopia since 1991. NAMA condemned the weekend violence and denies any link to it.
Party spokesman Christian Tadele told Reuters he received reports of arrests of Amhara people in four towns in Oromiya region. These and the arrests of party members “were perpetrated against Amharas because of their identity,” he said.
Police did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The prime minister’s office told Reuters it was collecting information and would respond later.
Prominent journalist Eskinder Nega said five fellow activists in a pressure group opposed to domination of the Oromo ethnic group in the capital were arrested.
A judge 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 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 government was doing before the reforms began,” said Eskinder. “In that era anti-terror law was used to clamp down peaceful opposition and the same thing is happening.”
Access to the internet, blocked since Saturday, was restored on Thursday morning and Ethiopia analysts say the prime minister must tread carefully to restore security.
“It will damage government’s reputation if it is widely perceived as engaging in anything looking like a purge of rivals or a crackdown on opponents in the aftermath of the assassinations”, said William Davison from Crisis Group.