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

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 leaders to visit Myanmar

Updated 1 min 30 sec ago

Rohingya leaders to visit Myanmar

  • Community leaders will check on preparations for repatriation
COX’S BAZAR, Bangladesh: A group of Rohingya community leaders will go to Rakhine, Myanmar, to witness developments on the ground there, said Bangladesh Foreign Minister A. H. Mahmood Ali on Thursday evening in Dhaka.

Ali was talking to the journalists after his briefing to diplomats in Dhaka over the Rohingya repatriation and forthcoming general election. He said that during the briefing session diplomats came up with the idea of sending the Rohingya community leaders (Majhi) to witness the practical developments for repatriation.

“We agreed with this idea,” said Bangladesh Foreign Minister.

A group of community leaders will check the preparations initiated by Myanmar government and will brief their fellow Rohingyas after returning Bangladesh.

Ali said that there is a misconception among a few stakeholders that Bangladesh was trying to send back Rohingyas against their will.

“If we wanted to send the refugees forcibly, we won’t have allowed them in our country. We have shown a humanitarian gesture to them, so there is no question of sending them back forcibly,” Ali said.

“We will not send a single one of the refugees against their will. Those who will repatriate will go on their own will,” he added.

Talking to Arab News, Abul Kalam, Refugee, Relief and Repatriation Commissioner of Bangladesh said, they have not stopped the repatriation process. It will remain open and if any of the Rohingyas wants to go back home, Bangladesh authorities will initiate repatriation for him or her.

Commenting on the failure of the first attempt at repatriation Kalam said, “Now we need to create more pressure on Myanmar for the completion of some specific tasks to build confidence among the Rohingyas. In the next Joint Working Group (JWG) meeting, we will put up these issues after more scrutiny.”
However, the next JWG meeting date is yet to be fixed, Kalam said.

After a week of tension over feared repatriation, on Friday everything was peaceful in the Rohingya camps at Cox’s Bazar. The refugees who fled from their tents fearing forceful repatriation started returning to their shanties.

“The Myanmar authority wanted to deceive us in the name of so-called repatriation process. If we would have returned on Thursday, they (Myanmar) would never granted our citizenship rights,” said Mohammad Lutfor Rahman, 53, of Jamtoli camp, Ukhia, who fled from his own tent after hearing that he was listed as a returnee in the first group.

Why did the Rohingyas refuse to take the offer to go back home, Rahman was asked. He said, “Myanmar authorities have declared that the repatriated Rohingyas will be kept in the camps for 5 months or more, guarded by armed law enforcers and there were no clear guidelines if we can go back to our original places or villages. So, what is point of accepting a camp life proposal in Rakhine?”

Another refugee, Syed Alam, 37, of Kutupalang camp, told Arab News, “Before any kind of repatriation, our top most priority is the guarantee of citizenship and once it is granted many of our problems will be minimized.”

However, talking about the future course of repatriation, United Nations Human Rights agency, UNHCR spokesperson in Bangladesh, Fairas Al-Khateeb, said, “We will continue to assist the Bangladesh government in assessing the voluntariness for repatriation. Bangladesh and Myanmar have made the deal of repatriation bilaterally, we can’t say when it will actually take place.”