Ethiopia: Senior ruling party member murdered in Amhara attack

Ethiopia: Senior ruling party member murdered in Amhara attack
A senior member of the ruling Prosperity Party in Ethiopia has been murdered in an attack in Amhara, said prime minister Abiy Ahmed.
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The Amhara Region is a regional state in northern Ethiopia and the homeland of the Amhara people [source: Getty]

Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed announced on Thursday that the head of his ruling Prosperity Party in the northern region of Amhara had been assassinated.

Girma Yeshitila was among five people killed in an attack on Thursday afternoon as they were heading to one of Amhara's main cities, according to the regional government.

"Those who couldn't win ideas with ideas have taken away the soul of our brother Girma Yeshitila," Abiy said in a Facebook post.

He blamed the "shameful and horrible" killing on "violent extremists", without elaborating.

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A member of the Prosperity Party's 45-strong executive committee, Girma was frequently targeted on social media by Amhara nationalists who branded him a "traitor" over his close relationship with Abiy.

The Amhara government said the attack by "irregular forces" took place as Girma was travelling with his personal bodyguards and family members to Debre Birhan, a city that lies 100 kilometres (60 miles) northeast of Addis Ababa.

"The information we have is that five people including Girma Yeshitila have lost their lives," it said in a statement, vowing to bring the assailants to justice.

Amhara was the scene of unrest this month during days of protests over controversial federal government moves to dismantle regional forces and integrate them into the national army or regional police.

The Amhara forces played a crucial role alongside the federal army during the brutal two-year war in the neighbouring Tigray region, which ended with a peace agreement in November.

Ethiopia's army chief announced earlier this month that the disbanding of the regional paramilitaries had been completed.

Abiy had previously defended the move, saying it was for the sake of multi-ethnic Ethiopia's "unity".

But Amhara nationalists had accused the government of seeking to disband only Amhara forces in a bid to weaken the region, the second most populous in Ethiopia.

Despite the Tigray peace deal signed in the South African capital Pretoria, Amhara "special forces" and local militias known as Fano continue to control western Tigray, an area claimed by both the Amhara and Tigrayans.

Ethiopia's constitution allows its 11 states, drawn up along linguistic and cultural lines, to operate their own regional police forces.

But over the last 15 years, some states gradually established separate forces, acting outside these constitutional constraints.

In June 2019, the head of the Amhara government Ambachew Mekonnen, Ethiopia's army chief Seare Mekonnen and other officials were killed in coordinated attacks that were branded an attempted regional coup.