September 28, 2018 / 12:33 PM / 19 days ago

Ethiopia charges five with terrorism over grenade attack at PM's rally

ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - Ethiopia’s attorney general on Friday filed terrorism charges against five suspects held for involvement in a grenade attack at a rally attended by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in June.

FILE PHOTO: Ethiopians jostle to jump from the podium during a rally in support of the new Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia June 23, 2018. REUTERS/Maheder Haileselassie/File Photo

Two people were killed and scores wounded in the explosion in the centre of the capital Addis Ababa on June 23 that occurred close to a stage just after a speech by Abiy to tens of thousands of supporters.

Charges brought to court accused the suspects of “targeting the prime minister” with the aim of “preventing his administration from governing the country,” the attorney general’s office said in a statement.

Abiy, the first ethnic Oromo leader in the diverse country’s modern history, has pursued a reconciliation strategy since taking power in April.

This has included pardoning the exiled Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), which has waged an insurgency for self-determination for Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group.

The five suspects “operated under the OLF’s name” with the intention of “giving the impression that Abiy lacked acceptance amongst Oromos”, the charges stated.

FILE PHOTO: Ethiopians react after an explosion during a rally in support of the new Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia June 23, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer/File Photo

OLF officials were not immediately available for comment.

Ethiopia’s Oromo, who make up about a third of the 100 million population, have long complained of being politically marginalised.

In 2015, mass protests broke out in the Oromiya province over land rights. They then evolved into anti-government unrest, before paving the way for Abiy to be appointed premier.

Abiy has since presided over widespread reforms that have included the pardoning of dissidents and kickstarting partial privatisation of major state enterprises.

Amid reforms, the exiled leadership of the OLF - which had previously been declared a “terrorist organisation” by the government - returned to Ethiopia last month in a bid to participate in domestic politics.

But reforms have also coincided with increased ethnic violence. Nearly one million people were displaced in southern Ethiopia in clashes that erupted in April.

Mob attacks against minorities have also surged - dozens of people died near the capital this month in violence that escalated the same day of a rally held to mark the return of the OLF’s leadership.

Editing by Omar Mohammed, Richard Balmforth

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