, ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia, Jun 23 – 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.
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.
– Opposition ends ‘armed resistance’ –
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.
On Friday, Ethiopian opposition group Ginbot 7 announced it would cease armed attacks in the country following the reforms announced by the new government.