Violent clashes in Ethiopia's Amhara as unrest deepens

NAIROBI (Reuters) -Several people in Ethiopia's Amhara region were shot on Tuesday during a sixth day of demonstrations against federal government plans to integrate local defence forces into the police and national army, a local official and a hospital worker said.

Amhara, the second biggest of Ethiopia's 11 regions, has been convulsed by days of protests against the government's plans, which the protesters say would leave Amhara vulnerable to attack from other regions.

The unrest has presented a fresh security challenge to Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed's government, which only ended a devastating two-year war in the neighbouring Tigray region last November by signing a truce with Tigrayan leaders.

Amhara residents reported renewed protests in several towns on Tuesday, with the demonstrations devolving into violent clashes in Kombolcha.

Kombolcha Mayor Mohammed Amin said clashes broke out after false information spread that federal soldiers had abducted some members of the Amhara regional force, leading protesters to attack an army camp.

"There were those who were injured from stones, gunshots and were taken to hospital. It includes the members of the city security, ENDF (federal army) and the protesters," he said, adding he would provide casualty figures later on.

A Kombolcha resident, who asked not to be named, said federal soldiers had indeed tried to arrest regional troops, leading protesters to intervene.

He said he saw the bodies of five people killed by gunshots and 10 others who were wounded.

A doctor in the nearby town of Dessie said his hospital had received 12 wounded people from Kombolcha and that he heard that others had died.

Reuters was not able to independently confirm casualty figures. Spokespeople for Amhara's regional administration, the federal government and the army did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The violence in Kombolcha came a day after an explosion at a bar in the regional capital Bahir Dar killed two people and wounded several others, according to a police officer.

It was not clear what caused the explosion or whether it was linked to the protests.

The United Nations' World Food Programme said on Tuesday it had suspended food deliveries in Amhara, where millions rely on humanitarian aid, because of the security situation.

Two aid workers from Catholic Relief Services were shot and killed on Sunday, and the Ethiopia Red Cross said on Tuesday that unidentified gunmen shot and wounded a midwife and an ambulance driver elsewhere in Amhara that same day.

(Reporting by Giulia Paravicini and Hereward Holland; Writing by Hereward Holland, George Obulutsa; Editing by Aaron Ross and Sandra Maler)