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Dozens of people were killed in fighting during a failed coup by a rogue state militia in Ethiopia’s Amhara region at the weekend, the regional government spokesman said on yesterday, the first official report of significant clashes.

The militia attacked the police headquarters, ruling party headquarters and president’s office — where they executed three top officials — in Amhara’s regional capital of Bahir Dar on Saturday, Asemahagh Aseres told Reuters on the sidelines of a state burial for the officials who were killed.

The militia was a recently formed unit of the region’s security services. It had appealed for others to join its take-over were rebuffed, Asemahagh said.

“They are part of our police. They are not independent,” he told Reuters. “(But) most of the forces were not with them. They defended (us) very well.”

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The fact that the militia were state forces rather than independent raises the stakes for the government of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who has rolled out a package of economic and political reforms since taking office in April last year.

He has lifted a ban on political parties, released journalists, rebels and prisoners, and prosecuted officials accused of abuses. But his shake-up of the military and intelligence services has earned him powerful enemies.

His government is also struggling to contain discontent from Ethiopia’s myriad ethnic groups fighting the federal government and each other for greater influence and resources. Outbreaks of ethnic violence have displaced around 2.4 million people, according to the United Nations.

The spokesman said the militia had detained him when it took over a guesthouse for government officials and also tried and failed to take over the region’s state media. He said the militia were then chased out of the city.

A journalist working there confirmed to Reuters that militia members had approached, but withdrawn before firing at the building’s armed security. Regional state-run media has reported 13 deaths in the violence so far.

On the way to the memorial service, a Reuters journalist saw a white goods truck riddled with bullet holes. It fit the description a witness had given of one of the vehicles the attackers had driven to the president’s house.

Reuters could not independently verify Asemahagh’s death toll, but two independent witnesses Reuters interviewed in a coffeehouse the night before confirmed the militia attacked the three targets he named.

The government has accused Amhara’s former security chief of masterminding the twin attacks that killed the region’s president Ambachew Mekonnen and two other officials in Bahir Dar, and the chief of staff and another general 500 miles away in the national capital Addis Ababa the same night.

Alleged coup mastermind Asamnew Tsige, who was shot dead by security forces on Monday, was accused of trying to seize control of Amhara, not the whole country.

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