An explosion has struck a huge rally for Ethiopia’s reformist new prime minister shortly after he spoke and was waving to the cheering crowd that turned out to support sweeping changes in Africa’s second-most populous nation.
Addressing the country minutes after he was rushed to safety, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed called the blast a “well-orchestrated attack” but one that failed. He did not lay blame but said police were investigating.
Health Minister Amir Aman confirmed one death while Abiy’s chief of staff said 83 people were hurt, six critically.
“The prime minster was the target,” a rally organiser, Seyoum Teshome, told The Associated Press. “An individual tried to hurl the grenade toward a stage where the prime minister was sitting but was held back by the crowd.”
The man with the grenade was wearing a police uniform, witness Abraham Tilahun told the AP. Police officers nearby quickly restrained him, he said. “Then we heard the explosion.”
AP video from the scene showed bloodstained ground and abandoned shoes while people chanting the prime minister’s name fled, some clutching their heads in shock and despair.
The attack was “cheap and unacceptable,” Ethiopia’s prime minister said, and added: “Love always wins. Killing others is a defeat. To those who tried to divide us, I want to tell you that you have not succeeded.”
The explosion in packed Meskel Square in the capital, Addis Ababa, came after weeks of reforms that had shocked many in the East African nation after years of anti-government tensions, states of emergency, thousands of arrests and long internet shutdowns.
The 42-year-old Abiy took office in April and quickly announced the release of tens of thousands of prisoners, the opening of state-owned companies to private investment and the unconditional embrace of a peace deal with rival Eritrea. Websites were unblocked and opposition figures were invited to dinner. Ethiopians said they could hardly keep up with the pace of change.
Saturday’s rally began as a show of exuberance, with supporters wearing clothes displaying Abiy’s image and carrying signs saying “One Love, One Ethiopia.”
Informal in a neon green T-shirt, Abiy told the tens of thousands of supporters that change was coming and there was no turning back.
Australian Associated Press