Scores of people with links to an ethno-nationalist party in Ethiopia's Amhara state have been arrested after an attempted coup in the region, a party spokesman said Thursday.
The government is scrambling to contain a political crisis highlighted by the attempt to take control of Amhara state, the country's second-largest region, which left three top leaders dead.
The attack on Saturday is believed to be linked to the assassination in Addis Ababa of army chief Seare Mekonnen, killed by his bodyguard.
"In Addis Ababa alone, 56 of our members and sympathisers have been arrested while dozens other NaMA (National Amhara Movement) sympathisers and members in Oromia have also been arrested," said party spokesman Christian Tadele.
"The campaign of arrests against NaMa members and sympathisers isn't just directed against a party, but is also an identity-based attack," Christian told AFP.
An employee of the attorney general's office in Addis Ababa told AFP he had seen several of his colleagues arrested in their offices since Monday.
Elias Gebru, a civil society activist based in Addis Ababa, said three of his colleagues had been arrested and appeared in court Tuesday on accusations they assisted in the coup bid.
"My colleagues are currently in jail waiting for the next court hearing which will be in around for weeks' time," said Elias, adding they were charged under the country's anti-terror law.
"The Ethiopian government is reverting to its old practices of persecuting peaceful people as an excuse for its internal strife," said the activist, who runs a pressure group to fight for the interests of Addis Ababa residents.
Internet services were partially restored across Ethiopia on Thursday after a near-total blackout for the past five days.
The violence is seen as a backlash to Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed's efforts to lead democratic reforms in Africa's second-most populous nation.
His loosening of the reins in the long-authoritarian state has stirred up ethno-nationalist sentiment in Ethiopia's nine autonomous regions, which are divided along ethnic lines, and fuelled jockeying for power ahead of 2020 elections.
Ethnic fighting has displaced over two million people in the country -- mostly over land and resources.
Rise of ethno-nationalists
The National Amhara Movement was formed around a year ago as a hardline ethno-nationalist challenger to the Amhara Democratic Party (ADP) -- one of the four alliance members in the national ruling party, the EPRDF.
"It is pressing territorial claims on neighbouring Tigray region and asserting that it would stop the 'persecution' of Amharas living outside Amhara state," the International Crisis Group (ICG) said of the party.
The security chief, Asaminew Tsige, who is accused of orchestrating the two attacks at the weekend, was seen as being appointed to his post in the ADP to appeal to the more hardline residents of the region.
In 2018 he was released from almost a decade in prison over a 2009 coup plot.
"Asaminew championed many of the same issues as the National Movement of Amhara and backed efforts to reclaim land that Amhara state leaders say they lost to Tigray in the early 1990s," said the ICG.
He was reportedly about to be sacked over his divisive rhetoric and efforts to form militia to ostensibly protect the region from outside attack.
Observers say Abiy's breakneck reforms have severely weakened the unity of the once all-powerful EPRDF.
The result, they say, has been the rise of hardline challengers in the regions portraying themselves as the defenders of their people.