An explosion has struck a large rally by supporters of Ethiopia‘s new, reformist Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in Addis Ababa, killing at least one person and wounding scores, including 10 who are in critical condition.
Abiy had just wrapped up his speech at the capital’s Meskel Square before tens of thousands of people on Saturday when the explosion went off, sending droves of supporters towards the stage as the prime minister left hurriedly.
Six suspects are under investigation for involvement in the attack, according to police.
The deputy commissioner of Addis Ababa police commission and eight others are also in custody over shortcomings in security, state media reported.
In an address broadcast afterwards on state television, Abiy said the blast was orchestrated by groups who wanted to undermine the rally but 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.”
He said several people had been killed, but Ethiopia’s Health Minister Amir Aman later adjusted that statement, saying one person had passed away at Addis Ababa’s Black Lion Hospital. At least 153 people were wounded, 10 critically, the health minister added.
In an earlier post on Twitter, Fitsum Arega, the prime minister’s chief of staff, said unidentified assailants launched a grenade attack on the rally.
“Some whose heart is filled with hate attempted a grenade attack. HE PM Abiy is safe. All the casualties are martyrs of love & peace. HE PM sends his condolences to the victims. The perpetrators will be brought to justice,” Fitsum said.
Al Jazeera’s Dereje Berhanu witnessed the explosion at the Meskel Square rally.
“I was in front of the stage when the blast occurred to my right. We rush to that direction to see what happened and I saw people seriously wounded and blood all around that area,” Dereje reported.
“Police said more than 100 people were wounded and 15 of them were admitted to hospital with serious injuries,” he added.
Footage of the rally showed Abiy being rushed from the scene by security guards.
Update: A footage from Ethiopian News agency shows PM #AbiyAhmed whisked away by his security detail. A faint sound of explosion can be heard over the MC who was thanking those Ethiopians watching the program from abroad. The crowd is dispersing and no further alert as of now. pic.twitter.com/Ls0n6oPWIs
— Addis Standard (@addisstandard) June 23, 2018
The state broadcaster quickly cut away from coverage of the rally, which has broken up with people singing, chanting and going back to their homes.
Ambulances were at the scene in the crowded Meskel Square in Addis Ababa where the prime minister had been addressing thousands of supporters.
In a hat and T-shirt, Abiy addressed the crowd as supporters wore clothes displaying his image and carry signs saying “One Love, One Ethiopia”.
The explosion occurred shortly after Abiy finished speaking and was waving to the crowd.
The Zimbabwe Herald reported that the 75-year-old president was not hurt and evacuated from the White City stadium, where he had been speaking to supporters in the run-up to next month’s vote.
At the rally in Addis Ababa, Ethiopians had packed the square in a show of support for Abiy’s reformist agenda, with numbers unseen in recent years in the East African nation.
As part of the promised reforms, Abiy has announced the release of tens of thousands of prisoners, the opening of state-owned companies to private investment and the embrace of a peace deal with rival Eritrea.
Eritrea condemned the grenade attack, the country’s ambassador to Japan wrote on Twitter.
“#Eritrea strongly condemns the attempt to incite violence, in today’s AA demonstration for peace, 1st of its kind in history of #Ethiopia,” Ambassador Estifanos Afeworki said on Twitter.
Ethiopia and Eritrea have long been at loggerheads over a border dispute. But Abiy stunned Ethiopians this month by saying he was ready to fully implement a peace deal with Eritrea that was signed in 2000 after a two-year war.
Addis Ababa had previously refused to implement the agreement without further talks.