Last Updated: June 23, 2018 5:57 AM
Ethiopians chant slogans during a rally in support of the new Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, June 23, 2018.
Ethiopia’s new prime minister said “a few people” were killed in an explosion at a political rally Saturday in the capital.
Abiy Ahmed also said several people were injured in the blast, which a rally organizer said was caused by a grenade. The attack occurred as he was waving to the crowd of tens of thousands. Police are investigating.
The prime minister added: “Love always wins. Killing others is a defeat. To those who tried to divide us, I want to tell you that you have not succeeded.”
In a televised interview after the explosion, Abiy said the incident was “an unsuccessful attempt by forces who do not want to see Ethiopia united.”
Ethiopians heartened by a wave of reforms under Abiy had packed Meskel Square in a show of support with numbers unseen in recent years in the East African nation.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed waves to supporters as he attends a rally in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, June 23, 2018.
Since 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 toward 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.”
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.”
Ethiopian security forces intervene on Meskel Square in Addis Ababa, June 23, 2018, where a blast killed several people during a rally called by the Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.
Media restrictions dropped
Ethiopia’s government also says it has removed internet restrictions on 246 websites and TV channels.
The prime minister’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 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.