Ethiopia rally attacker targeted Prime Minister, says organiser

Saturday June 23 2018

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed delivers a speech during a rally on Meskel Square in Addis Ababa on June 23, 2018. AFP

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed delivers a speech during a rally on Meskel Square in Addis Ababa on June 23, 2018. A blast marred the event aimed at building support for Abiy, who has pushed an aggressive reform agenda since taking office in April. PHOTO | AFP 

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By AFP
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The organiser of a pro-government rally in Ethiopia that was hit by a grenade blast Saturday said the attacker had aimed for Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed but was stopped by police.

Seyoum Teshome told AFP he watched from the stage as a scuffle erupted when someone attempted to hurl a grenade towards the area where Abiy had just delivered a speech to a crowd of tens of thousands in Addis Ababa.

"At that moment, four or more police, they jumped on him and during that scuffle the grenade went off," Seyoum said.

Ethiopia's government has given few details of the incident, which Abiy blamed on "anti-peace forces".

The attack injured 83 people, with six in critical condition, according to an aide to the prime minister. He said no one was killed, despite earlier statements by the authorities indicating several deaths.

The blast marred the event aimed at building support for Abiy, who has pushed an aggressive reform agenda since taking office in April.

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Seyoum, a blogger and university professor who spent weeks in prison earlier this year during a four-month state of emergency, said most of the injuries came during the pandemonium that erupted after the blast.

Thousands of people in Meskel Square rushed the stage as Abiy made a hasty getaway.

"Most of them were injured but not due to the grenade, but rather it was the stampede, it was just running away from that spot," Seyoum said.

Abiy was elected leader of the ruling Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) after his predecessor's February resignation that prompted the emergency declaration.

The first prime minister in modern Ethiopia from the country's largest ethnic group the Oromo, Abiy has announced major reforms such as liberalising the economy and pushing for a rapprochement with neighbour and arch-enemy Eritrea.

But the EPRDF remains unpopular in many parts of Ethiopia, and some people at the rally chanted anti-government slogans after they stormed the stage.

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