Journalist shot dead in Ethiopia's Tigray: aid worker, residents

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NAIROBI (Reuters) - An Ethiopian journalist and his friend have been shot dead by an unidentified person in the northern Tigray region's capital Mekelle, an aid worker and a resident said on Thursday.

Rights groups say press freedom has eroded since a November war between federal troops and forces loyal to the former ruling party of Tigray, which lost Mekelle at the end of that month.

Dawit Kebede, who worked for Tigray regional state TV, was shot on Tuesday night while in a car with friends, one aid worker said. "Both were shot in their head and their bodies were found in a car they were driving," said the worker, who asked not to be named.

Their bodies were found on Wednesday by people who were going to church and called the Red Cross. Dawit's friend was identified as Bereket Berhe, whom the Addis Standard newspaper said was the brother of one of Dawit's colleagues.

Tigray is under a state of emergency and in Mekelle there is a nightly curfew from 7 p.m.

Both were killed at around 7.30 p.m., one Mekelle resident told Reuters. "I attended their funeral, both were buried in Mekelle on Wednesday," the resident said.

The motive of the killing was unclear.

Kahsay Biru, director of the Tigray Mass Media Agency which is the umbrella body for the broadcaster where Dawit worked, said police had briefly detained Dawit on Friday and asked him to report to them on Monday.

The agency is run by the interim administration of Tigray, which was appointed by the federal government.

"They asked him about our institution, and how they were reporting during the conflict," Kahsay told Reuters.

Mekelle mayor Ataklti Haileselassie and Mulu Nega, the new head of Tigray, did not reply to phone calls or texts seeking comments on the killings.

Media watchdogs have reported the arrest of at least 13 journalists in Ethiopia last year, seven of them in November when fighting erupted in Tigray.

Ethiopian media has a wide spectrum of views, from state-run and affiliated media to independent publications to outlets affiliated with political opposition or even armed groups.

(Reporting Nairobi Newsroom; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)