Several deaths in blast at Ethiopia Prime Minister rally

Saturday June 23 2018

Ethiopia's new Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed at a past rally. PHOTO | AFP

A blast at a rally in Ethiopia's capital on Saturday in support of new Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed killed several people, the premier said.

“A few Ethiopians were injured. There are a few people who lost their lives,” Dr Abiy said in a televised addressed after the explosion, which occurred minutes after he finished his speech at the capital’s Meskel Square.

The explosion sent panicked crowds towards the stage as the prime minister left hurriedly, apparently safe and sound.

He described the incident as “an unsuccessful attempt by forces who do not want to see Ethiopia united.”

“All the casualties are martyrs of love and peace,” Dr Abiy said.

“It was a grenade. Someone tried to hurl it to the stage where the prime minister was in,” Seyoum Teshome, a member of the organising committee, said. “I saw some five people injured following the blast,” Seyoum told Reuters.



It was the first rally being held in the capital in support of the 41-year-old ex-soldier who has outlined a series of radical reforms since taking office in April.

State media reported that tens of thousands of people were in attendance.

In the past three months, Dr Abiy has made major changes in Ethiopia including shaking up the security services, releasing jailed dissidents, moving to liberalise the economy and to resolve a two-decade conflict with arch-enemy Eritrea.

He stunned Ethiopians this month when he announced that he was prepared to fully implement a peace deal with Eritrea signed in 2000 and meant to end the two-year war between the two neighbours that devolved into a stalemate resulting in huge military build up by both countries.

It is one of many policy shifts announced since Dr Abiy took office, moves that could reshape Ethiopia’s relations with its neighbours and have equally dramatic impacts inside the country of 100 million people.

"Ethiopia will be on top again, and the foundations will be love, unity and inclusivity," he declared on Saturday, dressed in a green T-shirt and a hat.

After the blast, dozens of people stormed the stage, hurling various objects at police, shouting: "Woyane down, down," and "Woyane thief", using a pejorative term for the government, the AFP correspondent said.

Further details on the casualties and the unidentified assailants were not immediately available.

-Reporting by Reuters and AFP.