Ethiopia pays tribute to slain military chief

Relatives mourn in front of the coffin of the country's Army Chief of Staff Seare Mekonnen, who was shot by his bodyguard, during a memorial ceremony in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia June 25, 2019. (Reuters)
Updated 25 June 2019

Ethiopia pays tribute to slain military chief

  • Hundreds of soldiers and officers in uniform gathered for the ceremony in a huge hall in central Addis Ababa

ADDIS ABABA: Ethiopia held a memorial on Tuesday for the army chief of staff slain with four other senior officials in weekend attacks that posed the biggest threat yet to the prime minister's reforms.
Abiy Ahmed, who survived a grenade attack at a rally in his honour last year, sat in the front row at the memorial and wiped tears from his eyes with a white handkerchief.
Abiy took power 15 months ago and has won widespread international praise for kickstarting political and economic reforms. But his shake-up of the military and intelligence services has earned him powerful enemies at home.
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.
The foiled plot to seize control of the northern Amhara region and the assassinations in the national capital Addis Ababa underscored the threat of spiralling violence in Africa's second-most populous nation.
In addition to the killing of the chief of staff in the capital, Amhara state president Ambachew Mekonnen and an adviser were killed in the region's main city Bahir Dar.
The attacks were led by Amhara's head of state security General Asamnew Tsige, who had been openly recruiting fighters for ethnic militias in a state that has become a flashpoint for violence.
Asamnew, the alleged coup plotter, was shot on Monday near Bahir Dar, according to the prime minister's office. He had served nearly a decade in jail for a previous coup plot, but was released as part of an amnesty last year.
RISKS
Hundreds of soldiers and officers in uniform gathered for the ceremony in a huge hall in central Addis Ababa.
Roads in the capital were blocked for the ceremony and security was tight. Access to the internet appeared to be blocked across Ethiopia for the third straight day, users reported.
The coffins of army chief of staff Seare Mekonnen and a retired general, both shot dead on Saturday by Seare's bodyguard in the national capital Addis Ababa, were wheeled into the hall, draped in Ethiopian flags.
Photographs of the men in formal military dress were adorned with yellow roses. Seare will be buried in his home region of Tigray on Wednesday.
At the memorial, the army's deputy chief of staff General Birhanu Jula spoke of the chief of staff's bravery in the guerrilla war against the Communist Derg regime that was toppled in 1991, and of his leadership role in Ethiopia's war against neighbouring Eritrea in the late 1990s.
The weekend killings came as Ethiopia prepares to hold parliamentary elections next year, although the electoral board warned this month that they were behind schedule and that instability could delay polling.
SECURITY FORCES
Ethiopia's ruling coalition, itself a grouping of ethnically-based parties, is facing an unprecedented challenge from strident ethno-nationalist parties, global think-tank Crisis Group said in a briefing note on Tuesday.
Asamnew, who allegedly orchestrated the killings, had been appointed by state authorities as regional security chief in an effort to claw back support from Amharas supporting more his more hardline policies, including expansion of Amhara's borders, the group said.
"The 22 June killings confirm the dangers in handing security portfolios to hardliners like Asamnew who are ready to pander to extreme ethno-nationalists, from whichever of Ethiopia’s ethnicities," the note read.
Ethiopia analysts say the prime minister must tread carefully to restore security. Too strong a response risks derailing his reforms and angering a polarised population. But failure to punish those responsible could see violence could spiral out of control.
Mehari Taddele Maru, an independent Ethiopian analyst, said the government should channel public anger through dialogue, but if ethnic rivalries spread to the federal armed forces, that could destroy the state, he said.


Hundreds of employees fired from Turkey’s Incirlik air base

Updated 35 min 54 sec ago

Hundreds of employees fired from Turkey’s Incirlik air base

  • Incirlik Air Base is located in Turkey’s Adana province, near the Syrian border, and it has been a strategic element in ties between Ankara and Washington
  • It has also played a key role for the US-led Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR) against Daesh in Syria and Iraq in the past

ANKARA: More than 420 people working at a crucial military air base in southern Turkey have lost their jobs, with some analysts considering it symbolic of decreased cooperation levels with the US and as the Pentagon reconsiders Middle East deployments.
Incirlik Air Base is located in Turkey’s Adana province, near the Syrian border, and it has been a strategic element in ties between Ankara and Washington. It has also played a key role for the US-led Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR) against Daesh in Syria and Iraq in the past, as well as hosting US nuclear warheads.
The Colorado-based company Vectrus System Corporation, which provides day-to-day maintenance and operation services at the base, terminated the contracts of almost half of its employees at the base earlier this month.
“The base surged to support OIR,” Aaron Stein, director of the Middle East program at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, told Arab News. “The Turkey-based staff for OIR has mostly left. So, the base is going back to its pre-OIR level of people, and that level requires less contractor support.”
Vectrus did not reply to Arab News’ request for comment about its decision to scale back at the base.
Joe Macaron, a resident fellow at the Arab Center in Washington, said the move was largely symbolic as the canceled contracts related to logistical support rather than the US military mission.
“But obviously, it comes against the background of some tensions in the US-Turkish relationship and previous hints by Ankara that it might reconsider the status of the Incirlik base,” he told Arab News. “The Pentagon is reconsidering its deployment across the Middle East and it might be looking to become less dependent on Incirlik without fully exiting this crucial military air base.”
Incirlik air base has been used in the past as a bargaining chip at times of tension between the two countries.
“Turkey may re-evaluate the status of the Incirlik Air Base if the US imposes sanctions,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said last month in an interview with pro-government channel A-Haber, referring to the potential fallout from Turkey’s decision to buy an air defense system from Russia. 
Washington has threatened to use its Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act to punish Ankara for buying the S-400 system.
Seth J. Frantzman, who is executive director of the Middle East Center for Reporting and Analysis, said reports of the US reducing presence at Incirlik, or challenges to the US presence there, have been growing over the last years.
“Whether these reports relate to changes or are just random is unclear and it is important to note that the large interests of the military and history tend to mean the US does not simply walk away from bases, even if it reduces its role slowly over time,” he told Arab News.
The US has invested heavily in the Jordanian Muwaffaq Salti Air Base to expand its presence there.