Ethiopia: One Dead, Scores Injured at Rally

Ethiopians chant slogans during a rally in support of the new Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, June 23, 2018.

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One person was killed and scores of others injured Saturday in a blast at a political rally in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa, Ethiopian officials said.

Ethiopia’s new reformist prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, had just finished a speech at the rally in the capital when a grenade exploded.

The state broadcaster quickly cut away as Abiy was rushed off the stage at Meskel Square where thousands had gathered to hear the young politician who was dressed in a cowboy hat and a T-shirt.

Abiy said the explosion was a “well-orchestrated attack” and that police were investigating who were responsible.

“Love always wins. Killing others is a defeat,” Abiy said in a televised interview after the blast. “To those who tried to divide us, I want to tell you that you have not succeeded.”

Major changes

Fitsum Arega, the prime minister’s chief of staff, posted on Twitter that the explosion was caused by a grenade.

Since Prime Minister Abiy took office in April, he has made major changes to the country, including releasing almost all jailed journalists, dropping charges against activists critical of the government and moving to liberalize the economy.

He has also pledged to work towards reconciliation with rival Eritrea, by implementing a long-ignored 2002 border demarcation. Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki this week described the peace overtures from Ethiopia as “positive signals.”

Estifanos Afewerki, Eritrea’s ambassador to Japan, posted on Twitter Saturday his country “strongly condemns the attempt to incite violence.” He said the “demonstration for peace” was the first of its kind in the history of Ethiopia.

“For the past 100 years, hate has done a great deal of damage to us,” Abiy said at the rally, adding that more reforms are needed. “Ethiopia will be on top again, and the foundations will be love, unity, and inclusivity.”

The White House said Thursday that it was encouraged by recent progress Ethiopia and Eritrea have made toward resolving their longstanding differences. A statement described the leadership of Abiy and Isaias as “courageous.”

Media restrictions dropped

Ethiopia’s government also says it has removed internet restrictions on 246 websites and TV channels.

Prime Minister Ahmed’s chief of staff, Fitsum Arega, announced the news on Twitter Friday, saying “freedom of expression is a foundational right.”

“A free flow of information is essential for the engaged and responsible citizenry. Only a free market of ideas will lead to the truth,” he added.

The unblocked news sites include two prominent pro-opposition sites — the Ethiopian Satellite Television (ESAT), based in Amsterdam, and the Oromia Media Network (OMN), based in Minnesota.
Many of the unblocked news sites are run from overseas.

The media rights group, the Committee to Protect Journalists, welcomed the decision Friday.

“Allowing Ethiopians to access these news outlets is a positive sign that Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed is committed to delivering his promise to end Ethiopia’s censorship of the independent press,” said CPJ Africa Program Coordinator Angela Quintal.
– VOA