The prime minister ordered the protesting soldiers to do press-ups to defuse the tension

A military court in Ethiopia has sentenced 66 soldiers to between five and 14 years in prison for marching on the residence of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in October.

The government said the soldiers were asking for a pay rise but Mr Abiy later insisted they had wanted to kill him.

The defendants’ lawyer said he would lodge appeals for a few suspects.

Head of the Military Tribunals Directorate Colonel Meshesha Areda said one defendant was sentenced to 14 years in prison, while 65 others were given jail terms ranging from five to 13 years, for “violation of military ethics”.

The 66 were among 200 soldiers in fatigues and red berets who marched to the prime minister’s office in the capital, Addis Ababa.

At the time, Mr Abiy defused the situation by ordering them to do press-ups and joining in but he later told parliament that he was very unhappy with the situation.

“The march of some members of the army to the National Palace [the prime minister’s office] was not only unlawful but very dangerous, because the intention was to abort the ongoing reforms,” Mr Abiy told MPs during a question-and-answer session.

“Meanwhile, after the situation was brought under control, some forces were heard saying: ‘He escaped before we could kill him,'” he added.

There was no word about the other soldiers who took part in the protest but Cap Hailemariam told reporters on Saturday that the sentences would serve as a lesson.

Since coming to power in April, Mr Abiy has made some dramatic changes – including freeing thousands of political prisoners, unbanning some outlawed groups and making peace with long-time foe Eritrea.

In September, Ethiopian prosecutors charged five suspects with terrorism over an attempt to kill Mr Abiy in a grenade attack at a rally in June.

He escaped uninjured and described the attack at the time as an “unsuccessful attempt by forces who do not want to see Ethiopia united”.

-BBC