Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has said the killing of a popular singer and subsequent violence that has left nearly 100 dead this week represented “coordinated attempts” to destabilise the country.
Speaking during a meeting with high-ranking officials on Friday, Abiy did not identify who he blamed for the unrest, though he promised to hold to account those directly involved as well as “those that are pulling the strings”, according to a summary of his comments distributed by his office.
Abiy, last year’s Nobel Peace Prize laureate, wore a military uniform during the meeting, a portion of which was broadcast on state television.
Singer Haacaaluu Hundeessa, a member of the Oromo ethnic group, Ethiopia’s largest, was shot dead in the capital, Addis Ababa, on Monday.
Protests immediately broke out in the city and the surrounding Oromia region.
On Thursday, officials said 97 people had been killed by security forces and in inter-ethnic clashes.
Five people have been arrested in connection with Hundeessa’s killing.
Officials have repeatedly suggested the Oromo Liberation Army, a rebel group, and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, an opposition party, were implicated.
Al Jazeera’s Catherine Soi, reporting from Nairobi, said the president stated the violence was an attempt to instigate a civil war but it has now been foiled.
“He [the president] also said the government is in the process of identifying not only those people who committed the crime of killing of the musician but also the ones inciting the violence in the country.
“The past few days we have been hearing officials saying there could be some external forces, perhaps foreign countries, who might have a hand in these protests,” she said.
Abiy said opposition groups that benefitted from amnesties he granted when he came to power in 2018 were taking up arms “instead of making a winning case through ideas and policy options”.
“A losing mindset cannot give birth to new ideas,” he was quoted to have said.
Three high-profile opposition leaders – including former media mogul Jawar Mohammed – have been arrested in connection with the unrest this week, though officials have provided few details about the cases against them.
On Friday, many businesses and government offices reopened in Addis Ababa after being closed for several days, but the internet remained shut throughout the country for a fourth day.
“Things have now returned back to normal, the security forces have taken control and the streets are calm again at the moment,” Soi reported.
Hundeessa, 36, the Oromo-language singer and songwriter was buried on Thursday under heavy police and military presence in his hometown of Ambo, about 100km (62 miles) west of the capital Addis Ababa.
He is survived by his wife and two children.
He was a prominent figure in successful anti-government demonstrations that lasted for three years before Abiy, who comes from the Oromo ethnic group, came to power.
During protests that led to the downfall of the previous government in 2018, he became the voice of the Oromo people.
Oromo people are the largest ethnic group in the East African country, but have long complained of discrimination and rights violations.