Grenade attack caused blast at rally for Ethiopian prime minister: chief of staff

The Prime Minister had just wrapped up his speech in the heart of the capital Addis Ababa when the explosion went off, sending the crowds toward the stage as the prime minister left hurriedly, apparently safe and sound (Yonas Tadese/AFP)
Updated 23 June 2018
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Grenade attack caused blast at rally for Ethiopian prime minister: chief of staff

  • Unidentified assailants launched a grenade attack at a political rally in support of the Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in the capital on Saturday
  • There were several people killed in the blast

ADDIS ABABA: One person died and scores of others were hurt after a grenade blast at new Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s first mass rally in the capital that sent crowds fleeing in panic.
Abiy had just wrapped up his speech before tens of thousands of people in the heart of Addis Ababa when the explosion went off, sending droves of supporters toward the stage as the prime minister left hurriedly, an AFP correspondent said.
In an address broadcast afterwards on state television, Abiy said the incident was orchestrated by groups who wanted to undermine the rally, but he did not name them.
“The people who did this are anti-peace forces. You need to stop doing this. You weren’t successful in the past and you won’t be successful in the future.”

This video posted on Twitter appears to capture the moment the blast happened:

Health Minister Amir Aman said on Twitter that 154 people were injured and another had died, without giving further details.
“Some whose heart is filled with hate attempted a grenade attack,” the prime minister’s chief of staff Fitsum Arega wrote on Twitter, vowing that the perpetrators will be brought to justice.
Event organizer Seyoum Teshome told AFP he watched from the stage as a scuffle broke out when someone tried to hurl a grenade toward the platform just as Abiy had sat down.
“Four or more police, they jumped on him and during that scuffle the grenade went off,” Seyoum said.
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.
More than 100 people stormed the stage, hurling various objects at police, shouting: “Down, down Woyane,” and “Woyane thief,” using a pejorative term for the ruling party, an AFP correspondent said.
Police used tear gas to clear the area, while an AFP photographer saw two men and two women taken into custody.
The rally was Abiy’s first public speech in the capital since he took office in April, although he has made several in provincial areas.
In the past three months, Abiy has made major changes including shaking up the security services, releasing jailed dissidents, moving to liberalize the economy and to resolve a two-decade conflict with arch-enemy Eritrea.
The rally had started on a positive note with Abiy giving a speech calling for unity and patriotism on a sunny morning.
“Ethiopia will be on top again, and the foundations will be love, unity and inclusivity,” he declared, dressed in a green T-shirt and a hat.
Abiy succeeded Hailemariam Desalegn, who resigned in February amid a wave of anti-government protests led by the country’s two largest ethnicities that started in late 2015 and left hundreds of people dead.
While it remains unclear how deep Abiy’s support runs within the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), his actions thus far represent dramatic shifts in the power balance within Africa’s second-most populous country.
Political rallies of Saturday’s scale are rare in Ethiopia, where the EPRDF controls all seats in parliament and opposition parties complain of harassment.
At the rally, people wore T-shirts proclaiming support for Abiy but also openly displayed the flags of banned groups such as the Oromo Liberation Front, an act that would usually result in arrest.
After Abiy left, the crowd removed the Ethiopian flag from the stage and hoisted an older version popular with EPRDF opponents, while chanting, “This is the flag we want.”
Abiy’s reforms have spurred some anti-government groups to seek rapprochement.
Following the release of top official Andargachew Tsige in May, anti-government group Ginbot 7 announced on Friday it would cease armed attacks in the country, citing Abiy’s reform agenda.
Saturday’s incident was condemned by Ethiopia’s allies including the United States and Djibouti and — in a surprise move — Eritrea.
“Eritrea strongly condemns the attempt to incite violence in today’s Addis Ababa demonstration for peace, (the) first of its kind in history of Ethiopia,” its ambassador to Japan Estifano Afeworki tweeted.


‘Results’ needed from Myanmar over Rohingya return: UNHCR head

Updated 55 min 5 sec ago
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‘Results’ needed from Myanmar over Rohingya return: UNHCR head

  • A UN fact-finding mission called for Myanmar’s top generals to be prosecuted for “genocide”
  • Myanmar pejoratively labels the Rohingya as “Bengali,” implying they are illegal interlopers

YANGON: Myanmar must “show results” to convince Rohingya refugees to return, the UN’s High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said Friday at the end of his first visit to Myanmar since the crackdown against Rohingya Muslims in 2017.
A brutal military campaign in western Rakhine state forced some 740,000 Rohingya over the border into Bangladesh.
Around one million Rohingya now languish in sprawling refugee camps from various waves of persecution.
A UN fact-finding mission called for Myanmar’s top generals to be prosecuted for “genocide” and the International Criminal Court (ICC) has started preliminary investigations.
During his visit Grandi spoke with both Rohingya and ethnic Rakhine Buddhist communities in Maungdaw and Buthidaung in northern Rakhine, the epicenter of the violence.
He also held discussions with officials in capital Naypyidaw, including civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, describing all talks as “constructive.”
“My message is: ‘please accelerate’, because it has been very slow in the implementation in this first year. We need to show results,” he told AFP in an interview in Yangon.
“This is not enough to convince people to come back,” he said.
Grandi visited the camps in Bangladesh in April.
The two countries have signed a repatriation agreement but so far virtually no refugees have returned, fearing for their safety and unconvinced they will be granted citizenship.
Myanmar pejoratively labels the Rohingya as “Bengali,” implying they are illegal interlopers and the community has had its rights eroded over decades.
Gaining independent access to northern Rakhine is difficult with most journalists, observers and diplomats only allowed on brief chaperoned visits.
Grandi defended the UNHCR’s involvement in a plan by the Bangladeshi government to move some 100,000 refugees onto low-lying island Bhashan Char.
The area in the Bay of Bengal is prone to flooding and cyclones.
Rights groups oppose the scheme that has also so far been universally rejected by the Rohingya themselves.
The refugee agency must be “involved” to have the necessary information in order to take a stance on the issue, Grandi said.
“We’re still at that stage, no more than that.”
He also visited camps near Rakhine’s capital Sittwe, where nearly 130,000 Rohingya have been confined since a previous bout of violence in 2012.
Myanmar has announced it will close the camps but many are skeptical the displaced will enjoy more freedoms.
Grandi said the UNHCR would reconsider its role in providing services if conditions did not substantially improve.
“To simply transform the camps, upgrade the camps, upgrade the houses, for example, but leave them in the same situation will not be a solution,” he said.