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.


Rohingya refugee children in Bangladesh get doves of peace from the Middle East

Updated 24 min 45 sec ago
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Rohingya refugee children in Bangladesh get doves of peace from the Middle East

  • A Dubai NGO has paired up with one in the UK to distribute toys made from upcycled refugee blankets
  • It’s one initiative marking the UN’s International Day of Peace on Friday, at a time when the world is in conflict

DUBAI: Eight-year-old Anjuman, living in Camp 7 at Kutupalong refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, has received the most beautiful gift. “I am very happy to have received this dove. I like it so much,” she said.

She is among 150 children in the camp who have received “peace doves” from Dubai after winning an art competition organized in the camp.

To celebrate the UN-declared International Day of Peace on Friday, a Dubai-based NGO, NRS International, and a UK-based NGO, Empathy Action, have given wings to a message of hope, peace and reconciliation. 

Both these organizations have come together to make dove toys (symbolizing peace) to distribute among children, who are among the first victims of conflict in any part of the world.

And while peace isn’t something the world often associates with the Middle East, there are plenty of ways in which countries in the region are trying to make the world a better place, from smaller initiatives such as the doves in Bangladesh to major efforts such as the peace deal brokered this week by Saudi Arabia between Ethiopia and Eritrea. 

The peace doves were handmade by women at NRS International’s factory in Pakistan. As many as 650 dove toys have been stitched and handcrafted from upcycled offcuts of refugee blankets and tarpaulins.

“Each dove, made from excess blanket material that normally keeps refugees warm, is a symbol of peace,” said Wieke de Vries, head of corporate social responsibility at NRS International. It is the leading supplier of humanitarian relief items such as fleece blankets to UN agencies and international aid organizations.

Sandy Glanfield, innovations manager at Empathy Action, said the doves will carry a reminder that for 68.5 million displaced people worldwide, a blanket or tarpaulin is a basic necessity to survive. “The passionate and skillful women who made the doves add the love into this story,” said Glanfield.

About 150 larger versions of peace doves have been distributed to Rohingya refugee children in Bangladesh camps, with the support of the Danish Refugee Council. 

S.M. Atiqur Reza, who is a child protection assistant at the council, said that the peace doves have put smiles on the faces of the children in the refugee camp. 

“The children were so excited, and they loved these doves and making plans to take it back home (whenever they go back home).” 

But in a world of conflicts, there is still much to be done. Anjuman is just one of nearly 25.4 million refugees in the world, over half of whom are under the age of 18.

Dr. Hadia Aslam, who sets up health care systems for refugees in Europe and the Middle East, is not hopeful about world peace in the near future.

“I feel we have desensitized entirely to any atrocity that happens now. Nothing shocks us. I do not see a future for peace, but I do see conflict. Our systems are geared to hosting this,” said the young doctor, who is the founder of a charity that has treated thousands of refugees in Europe. 

For her, human rights violations by Israel are a major threat to world peace. “I don’t know a lot about politics, but I can categorically raise concerns about Israel’s human rights track record being astounding and the world silently watching. Their only motive is occupation and apartheid. There is no space for peace in such a place.”

Vidya Bhushan Rawat, a leading peace activist based in New Delhi, said that the biggest threat to peace is injustice and growing inequalities.” I don’t think that the world has become a peaceful place at the moment. There is a steady growth of right-wing politics the world over, where minorities and immigrants are considered a threat to the nation.

“To protect the only planet we have we need to eradicate poverty, illiteracy, hunger, malnutrition, gender disparity and superstition from our societies.”

Dr. Kamran Bokhari, director of strategy and programs at the Center for Global Policy in Washington, does not see peace becoming the norm any time soon.

 “We constantly hear about peace talks. But seldom do these efforts produce actual peace. The rise of nationalism is undoing the internationalist order that we thought would gain ground after the end of the Cold War a quarter of a century ago. Meanwhile, non-state actors are filling the vacuums left behind by weakening states, which suggests greater, not less, global conflict.”

Dr. Shehab Al-Makehleh also believes that the world is less peaceful now than it has been in a long time. “Right now, peacefulness is at the worst level of any time since 2012. By the end of 2017, 1 percent of the world population had been refugees and displaced,” said the executive director of Geostrategic media in Washington, DC.

He does not expect things to improve unless decision-makers in the international community give this matter attention as the world will be witnessing new economic and financial crises that could turn major countries into enemies.

“Unless the UN takes necessary measures that the world does not fall into anarchy due to populism and nationalism, the domino effect will cross borders, causing insecurity at all levels, toppling some regimes and changing borders with hundreds of thousands of people dying of poverty and terrorism,” Dr. Al-Makehleh said.

All the more reason to bring hope to children such as Anjuman. As Reza said of the Rohingya children in the camp: “They want peace. They say they want to go back home. They want to go to their schools and study. They find the camp is a very small place to live. They are really sad here.”