October 8, 2019 / 7:27 PM / a month ago

Ethiopian police teargas protesters in Amhara: local party official

ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - Police teargassed hundreds of protesters outside a court in Ethiopia’s northern city of Bahir Dar on Tuesday, a local party official and an eyewitness said, reflecting public tensions over high profile violence that left dozens dead there in June. 

The man, who requested anonymity for fear of reprisals, told Reuters the protesters were chanting demands that the government reveal “the truth” over the killings described by the government as a regional coup attempt.

The June violence flared up after a rogue state militia leader killed the region’s state president and other top level officials, sparking a shootout in Bahir Dar, the capital of Amhara.

Desalegn Chane, president of the new National Movement of Amhara (NAMA) party, confirmed police fired tear gas at protesters. 

“Youth protested, police fired tear gas and dispersed them,” he told Reuters, adding that there were no casualties.

The regional spokesman declined to comment. The region’s top police official did not respond to a request for comment.   

Amhara is a northern region in Ethiopia and is home to Ethiopia’s second largest ethnic group which bears the same name.   

The June violence there was the most serious challenge yet to the rule of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, whose political and economic reforms in what was once one of Africa’s most repressive nations have also emboldened powerful regional strongmen, leading to an upsurge in ethnicaly-fueled clashes. 

Tuesday’s protest appears to be a show of strength by Amhara’s increasingly strident ethnically-based political movement, which may challenge the Amhara-based party in the ruling coalition in next year’s elections.  

“They were chanting and saying the government should reveal the whole truth about June 22,” the man said. Protesters were also demanding the release of prisoners due to appear in court over the violence, he said.   

It was not clear how many prisoners were due to appear in court or what the charges were.

But state-run Amhara Mass Media said those due to appear in court included Brigadier General Tefera Mamo, the former head of special forces in Amhara, and noted the prisoners have been held for 64 days without charge.

The witness said he didn’t see police arresting or beating any protesters, a common occurrence under Abiy’s predecessor Hailemariam Desalegn.

Three years of deadly protests culminated in Hailemariam’s resignation in April last year, ushering in Abiy’s rule and the gradual loosening of the state’s iron grip.

Additional reporting and editing by Giulia Paravicini; editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise

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