PICS: Blast at Ethiopian PM's rally sparks panic

2018-06-23 12:00
Ethiopian security forces intervene on Meskel Square in Addis Ababa where a blast killed several people during a rally called by the Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. (AFP)

Ethiopian security forces intervene on Meskel Square in Addis Ababa where a blast killed several people during a rally called by the Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. (AFP)

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A small blast sparked panic at a public rally for Ethiopia's new Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed attended by tens of thousands of people on Saturday, an AFP journalist said.

Abiy had just wrapped up his speech in the heart of the capital Addis Ababa when the explosion went off, sending the crowds towards the stage as the prime minister left hurriedly, apparently safe and sound.

The cause of the blast was unknown and it was not immediately clear if there were any casualties.

It 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 in Ethiopia including shaking up the security services, releasing jailed dissidents, moving to liberalise the economy and to resolve a two-decade conflict with arch-enemy Eritrea.

"Ethiopia will be on top again, and the foundations will be love, unity and inclusivity," he declared on Saturday, dressed in a green T-shirt and a hat.

Ethiopia

Picture: AFP

After the blast, dozens of people stormed the stage, hurling various objects at police, shouting: "Woyane down, down," and "Woyane thief", using a pejorative nickname for the government, the AFP correspondent said.

Ethiopia

Ethiopian security forces intervene on Meskel Square in Addis Ababa where a blast killed several people during a rally called by the Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. (AFP)

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.

His actions since coming to power represent dramatic shifts in the power balance within Africa's second-most populous country.

But it remains unclear how deep Abiy's support runs within the ruling Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) for carrying out the reforms.

Ethiopia

Ethiopians gather on Meskel Square in Addis Ababa for a rally called by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. (AFP)

On Friday, Ethiopian opposition group Ginbot 7 announced it would cease armed attacks in the country following the reforms announced by the new government.

Last month, Ethiopia released from prison top Ginbot 7 official Andargachew Tsige.

Prosecutors also dropped charges against the group's leader Berhanu Nega, who is based outside Ethiopia and had in 2009 received a death sentence in absentia over an assassination plot.

"Our forces have received strict orders to refrain from any sort of armed resistance," the group said in a statement.

Ethiopia

Ethiopians cheer on stage during a rally called by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, on Meskel Square in Addis Ababa. (AFP)

Formed after a disputed 2005 election, Ginbot 7 - named after the date in the Ethiopian calendar when the ballot took place - has claimed numerous deadly attacks in the past.

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