Witnesses said a man tried to throw the grenade at the stage as Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed waved to the cheering crowd of tens of thousands shortly after he made a strong appeal for unity following months of anti-government protests, AP reported.
Addressing the nation minutes after he was rushed to safety, Abiy called the blast a “well-orchestrated attack” but one that failed. He did not lay blame and said police were investigating. At least one person was killed and 153 people were hurt, 10 critically, Health Minister Amir Aman said.
“The prime minster was the target,” a rally organizer, Seyoum Teshome, said. “An individual tried to hurl the grenade toward a stage where the prime minister was sitting but was held back by the crowd.”
The man with the grenade was wearing a police uniform, witness Abraham Tilahun said. Police officers nearby quickly restrained him, he said. “Then we heard the explosion.”
The explosion in packed Meskel Square in the capital, Addis Ababa, followed weeks of reforms that had shocked many in the East African nation after years of anti-government tensions, states of emergency, thousands of arrests and long internet shutdowns.
The 42-year-old Abiy took office in April and quickly announced the release of tens of thousands of prisoners, the opening of state-owned companies to private investment and the unconditional embrace of a peace deal with rival Eritrea. Websites were unblocked and opposition figures were invited to dinner. Ethiopians said they could hardly keep up with the pace of change.
Saturday’s rally began as a show of exuberance, with supporters wearing clothes displaying Abiy’s image and carrying signs saying “One Love, One Ethiopia.”
Informal in a neon green T-shirt, Abiy told the tens of thousands of supporters that change was coming and there was no turning back.
After the explosion the state broadcaster quickly cut away from coverage of the rally, which broke up with people singing, chanting and going back to their homes.