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Explosions hit rallies for leaders of Ethiopia, Zimbabwe

A Red Cross worker aided an injured woman after a grenade attack at a rally in Ethiopia.
YONAS TADESE/AFP/Getty Images
A Red Cross worker aided an injured woman after a grenade attack at a rally in Ethiopia.

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia — The leaders of Ethiopia and Zimbabwe escaped attacks on their lives as they appeared at public events Saturday that left many casualties, officials in the two countries said.

Ethiopia’s new prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, was the target of a grenade attack at a unity rally in Addis Ababa that killed at least one person and injured about 150. The attack set off a stampede as panicked people rushed to safety, according to officials and the state broadcaster.

Witnesses said the attacker had been disguised in a police uniform, striking shortly after Abiy had given a speech at Meskel Square in the capital, at what is believed to have been the largest public rally ever held in support of a leader in Ethiopia.

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The explosion went off immediately after he had finished giving a speech that supporters described as “unifying and hopeful.”

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Girma Kassa, deputy head of the Addis Ababa Police Commission, gave the estimate of the injuries and said a police truck had been destroyed. A large number of people were also unaccounted for after the stampede.

In Zimbabwe, President Emmerson Mnangagwa was unscathed by a bomb explosion at a campaign rally that state media called an attempt to assassinate him, the Associated Press reported. At least eight people were injured, including two vice presidents.

Mnangagwa later visited the vice presidents and declared the ‘‘cowardly act’’ will not disrupt next month’s historic elections.

Dramatic footage showed a smiling Mnangagwa walking off the stage and into a crowded tent where the blast occurred seconds later, sending up smoke as people screamed and ran for cover.

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The Ethiopian prime minister’s chief of staff, Fitsum Arega, said on his Twitter account that someone “whose heart is filled with hate’’ launched the grenade attack on Abiy. He added that the prime minister was safe.

The prime minister said in a grim address to the nation afterward that people had been killed and injured in a “well-orchestrated attack.”

“The casualties are martyrs of love, unity, and peace,” he added, urging Ethiopians not to be discouraged and to work toward reforming the country.

Ethiopia’s health minister, Amir Aman, said on Twitter that one person had died at the hospital and 154 others had injuries, 10 of them critical.

Officials did not identify any suspects in the attack. Police in the East African nation said they were investigating. Investigators said the attacker had been sitting on the stage among other officials, including the house speaker, Muferihat Kamil, when the explosion went off.

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Seyoum Teshome, the organizer of the rally, said in an interview: “The target was the prime minister because the suspect was aiming to throw the grenade by the right side of the stage, where he was sitting.”

The attacker was held back by the crowd, he said, adding that “several who were around there” were killed. Witness said a suspect had been beaten by the crowd and police had taken the person to a hospital, but authorities reported no official arrests.

Abiy, 41, 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.

Abiy — a 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.

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 the proposed deal.

After the Zimbabwe attack, Mnangagwa was taken from the stadium to a nearby government building in Bulawayo, a traditional opposition stronghold, the AP reported.

The explosion went off a ‘‘few inches away from me, but it is not my time,’’ the president told state broadcaster ZBC.

At least eight people were injured, the state-run Herald newspaper reported. Vice President Kembo Mohadi had leg injuries, while Constantino Chiwenga, a second vice president and the former military commander, had bruises on his face, the report said.