An attacker dressed in a police uniform tossed a grenade at a rally for Ethiopia’s new prime minister on Saturday, killing at least one person and setting off a stampede as panicked people rushed to safety, according to officials, witnesses and the state broadcaster.
The rally organizer said the prime minister was targeted, although he was not injured. The deputy police commissioner for the capital, Addis Ababa, and eight other police and security officials were arrested on suspicion of complicity in the attack, state television quoted the country’s minister of communications as saying
Witnesses said the attacker, dressed in a police uniform, struck shortly after Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed gave a speech at Meskel Square in Addis Ababa at a large public rally. More than 150 people were injured, according to a government official.
Mr. Abiy — a 41-year-old former soldier, minister of science and technology, and vice president of the Oromia region — took office in April, pulling Ethiopia back from the brink of a political implosion. The country, rocked in recent years by violent protests, had been in a state of emergency since the previous prime minister’s resignation in February.
“The casualties are martyrs of love, unity and peace,” he said, urging Ethiopians not to be discouraged and to work toward reforming the country.
The casualty toll was not immediately clear. Ethiopia’s health minister, Amir Aman, said on Twitter that one person had died at the hospital and 154 were injured, 10 of them critically. State news media said several had been killed. One witness said he saw body parts scattered after the explosion.
Officials said the prime minister was sitting on the stage among other officials when the grenade exploded.
Witness said the crowd beat one suspect and the police took that person to a hospital. On Saturday evening, state television quoted Ahmed Shide, the communications minister, as saying that nine senior federal police and security officials had been arrested on suspicion of complicity in the attack.
The explosion went off immediately after Mr. Abiy had finished giving his speech, which supporters described as “unifying and hopeful.”
Dressed casually in a T-shirt, the prime minister had been addressing a crowd of supporters carrying signs saying, “One Love, One Ethiopia.”
He told the tens of thousands at the rally that change was coming after years of antigovernment tensions.
“For the past 100 years, hate has done a great deal of damage to us,” he said, stressing the need for further reforms.
After taking office, Mr. Abiy, one of the youngest leaders in Africa, quickly announced the release of tens of thousands of prisoners and the opening of state-owned companies to private investment.
He also surprised many in Ethiopia, a critical player in the regional fight against terrorism, by taking a major step this month toward calming tensions with Eritrea over their disputed border. He said his government would fully accept the terms of a peace agreement signed in 2000.
Some Ethiopians near the border with Eritrea have protested against the proposed deal.
The Eritrean ambassador, Estifanos Afeworki, denounced the attack on Saturday, writing on Twitter, “#Eritrea strongly condemns the attempt to incite violence, in today’s AA demonstration for peace, 1st of its kind in history of #Ethiopia.”
The United States Embassy in Addis Ababa also tweeted, “Violence has no place as Ethiopia pursues meaningful political and economic reforms.”