Blast rips into crowd in Ethiopia, up to 11 die – By Andrew Heavens(Reuters)
ADDIS ABABA, May 28 (Reuters) – A blast ripped through a crowd in Ethiopia’s volatile Somali region on Monday, (more…)
ADDIS ABABA, May 28 (Reuters) – A blast ripped through a crowd in Ethiopia’s volatile Somali region on Monday, killing at least five people and setting off a stampede that saw up to six more die, according to witnesses and aid-workers.
The Ethiopian government quickly blamed the attack on the Ogaden National Liberation Movement (ONLF), separatist rebels who have been increasingly active in the remote east and last month attacked a Chinese-run oil exploration field killing 74.
But an ONLF spokesman denied involvement.
Senior Ethiopian government official Bereket Simon could not confirm any deaths, but said the attack had wounded regional local Somali region president Abdullahi Hassan in the leg.
“One hand grenade was thrown at the stadium this morning. A number of people were also seriously wounded,” he told Reuters. “The culprit is none other than a member of the ONLF which is supported by Eritrea.”
Aid agency sources said the attack happened as hundreds of people were gathered at the stadium in Jijiga town’s Revolutionary Square for a ceremony marking the overthrow of Ethiopia’s former dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam.
An eye-witness, who asked not to be named out of fear of reprisal in the tense and heavily militarised region, said five people died in the initial blast.
“It was a huge explosion, bigger then hand grenades. It was like lots of dynamite,” the local man, who was in the crowd, told Reuters by phone.
“The president was speaking, surrounded by people from the band and a traditional dance group. Then the explosion happened and he was blown 10 metres away. Most of the people injured were from the band. … I think five people died.”
The witness said police started firing after the blast.
“After the shooting, there was a huge stampede and some children were killed there — I think six,” he said, speculating that the attack was by a suicide bomber.
An international aid worker in Jijiga, who asked not to be named, said the president was attacked with two grenades.
“Five people were killed on the spot then three people were killed afterwards when shooting broke out,” he said. “We are all in our compounds, staying in to keep safe.”
Another aid worker, from a Jijiga-based agency, also said there were two explosions. “There was a huge stampede out of the stadium which only has one exit. Lots of people were injured.”
The country’s Somali region has been the scene of a sporadic but long-running conflict between government forces and the ONLF, which wants more autonomy for the remote and under-developed area bordering Somalia.
Ethiopia says its neighbour and arch-foe, Eritrea, is training and arming the ONLF. Asmara denies that.
Tensions mounted sharply in April when ONLF fighters killed 65 Ethiopians and nine Chinese oil workers in the raid close to Abole, a small town 75 miles (121 km) south of Jijiga.
Adurahmin Mohammed Mahdi, a London-based ONLF spokesman, said his movement had nothing to do with Monday’s attack.
“Our policy is not to attack civilian targets or Jijiga,” he told Reuters. “The ONLF attacks military targets only.”
Aid agency sources say government troops recently stepped up operations in three districts covering about half the region.
The sources, who asked not to be named, said aid workers now had to apply for permission to enter the affected region — a restriction they said was delaying vital development work.
A three-person New York Times reporting team was detained in the region, interrogated at gunpoint and held for five days before being freed last week without charge, the newspaper said.