Ethiopian prime minister escapes grenade attack as one killed in rally blast

Attack launched as Abiy Ahmed was about to finish his speech in centre of Addis Ababa

Ethiopians attend a rally in support of the new Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia June 23, 2018, shortly before the blast. REUTERS/Stringer

Ethiopians attend a rally in support of the new Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia June 23, 2018, shortly before the blast. REUTERS/Stringer

 

Ethiopia’s new Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed escaped a grenade attack on Saturday at a rally in the capital that killed one person and left scores wounded, officials and witnesses said.

The attack was launched by an unidentified assailant moments after 41-year-old prime minister, a former soldier who took office in April, finished his speech to tens of thousands of people gathered in the centre of Addis Ababa.

A witness saw Abiy whisked away by guards. Another witness told Reuters the assailant with the grenade had been wrestled to the ground by police before it exploded.

Health Minister Amir Aman said one person was killed and 154 were wounded, with 10 of them in critical condition.

Addressing the nation on television shortly after the blast and still wearing a green t-shirt he was handed at the rally, Abiy said the attack was an “attempt by forces who do not want to see Ethiopia united.”

Abiy had promised the crowd in his speech in Addis Ababa’s Meskel Square that he would bring more transparency to government and reconciliation to a nation of 100 million people that has been torn by protests since 2015.

Eritrea, which has long been at loggerheads with Ethiopia over a border row that Abiy has sought to resolve, condemned the incident, as did the European Union and the United States.

Abiy took office after his predecessor, Hailemariam Desalegn, resigned in February following protests in which hundreds of people were killed between 2015 and 2017.

Emergency law was temporarily imposed to quell the unrest and was lifted this month.

Despite boasting one of Africa’s fastest growing economies, opponents say the benefits have not been shared fairly between ethnic groups and regions in the country, which has been run by the same ruling coalition for more than quarter of a century.

Abiy has travelled around the nation, promising to address grievances and address political and civil rights.

After Saturday’s blast, the prime minister’s chief of staff wrote on Twitter: “Some whose heart is filled with hate attempted a grenade attack.”

“All the casualties are martyrs of love & peace. HE PM sends his condolences to the victims. The perpetrators will be brought to justice,” Fitsum Arega wrote.

The U.S. embassy in Addis Ababa said: “Violence has no place as Ethiopia pursues meaningful political and economic reforms.”

(Reuters)