Grenade attack at Ethiopian PM's rally

Aaron Maasho
One person is dead and scores are injured after a grenade attack at a political rally in Ethiopia

Ethiopia's new Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has escaped a grenade attack at a rally in the capital although scores of people were wounded, officials and witnesses said.

The attack on Saturday was launched by an unidentified assailant moments after 41-year-old prime minister, a former soldier who took office in April, finished his speech to tens of thousands of people gathered in Meskel Square in the centre of Addis Ababa.

A witness saw Abiy whisked away by guards. Another witness told Reuters the assailant who carried the grenade had been wrestled to the ground by police before it exploded.

The prime minister's chief of staff said 83 people were wounded, with six in critical condition. But he said no one was killed, despite earlier statements by the authorities indicating several deaths. A senior police officer said 100 were wounded.

Addressing the nation on television shortly afterwards, Abiy said the attack was an "attempt by forces who do not want to see Ethiopia united."

Abiy had promised in his rally speech to bring more transparency to government and reconciliation to a nation torn by years of protests. When speaking on television, he was still wearing a green T-shirt handed to him by rally organisers.

Eritrea, which has long been at loggerheads with Ethiopia over a border row that Abiy has sought to resolve, condemned the incident. The European Union and the United States condemned the attack.

Abiy took office after his predecessor, Hailemariam Desalegn, resigned following protests that erupted in 2015 in the nation of 100 million people. Emergency law was temporarily imposed to quell the unrest and was lifted this month.

Despite boasting one of Africa's fastest growing economies, opponents say the benefits have not been shared fairly between ethnic groups and regions in the country, which has been run by the same ruling coalition for more than quarter of a century.

Abiy has travelled around the nation, promising to address grievances and address political and civil rights.

After Saturday's blast, the prime minister's chief of staff wrote on Twitter: "Some whose heart is filled with hate attempted a grenade attack."

"All the casualties are martyrs of love & peace. HE PM sends his condolences to the victims. The perpetrators will be brought to justice," Fitsum Arega wrote.

The US embassy in Addis Ababa said: "Violence has no place as Ethiopia pursues meaningful political and economic reforms."