Blasts rock political rallies in Zimbabwe and Ethiopia; leaders safe

Injured people are attended to as they lay on the ground following an explosion at a Zanu pf rally in Bulawayo, Saturday, June, 23, 2018.

STR/The Associated Press

Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa has narrowly escaped an explosion that injured several of his top officials and ruling-party members at an election rally.

Zimbabwe’s state media called it an attempt to assassinate the president. Video clips showed the blast occurring within metres of Mr. Mnangagwa’s entourage as he waved to supporters, just moments after leaving the stage. He was uninjured.

“We will not allow this cowardly act to get in our way as we move towards elections,” Mr. Mnangagwa tweeted after the explosion. “The strongest response to violence is peace. The strongest response to hate is love.”

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One of Zimbabwe’s two vice-presidents, Kembo Mohadi, reportedly suffered a leg injury in the blast, and environment minister Oppah Muchinguri Kashir was also injured. In total, eight people were injured, including several reporters, bodyguards and ruling party members, according to state media. Some of the victims were visited in hospital by Mr. Mnangagwa after the blast.

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An injured man, wearing a bloodstained ZANU-PF shirt carrying the image of Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa, lays on a hospital bed in Bulawayo on June 23, 2018, following an explosion at the end of an electoral rally of the President.

-/AFP/Getty Images

It was the second explosion targeting an African leader’s political rally on Saturday. An explosion in Ethiopia killed one person and injured more than 150 at a huge street rally where Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed was speaking to tens of thousands of supporters.

Watch: Blast hits rally in Ethiopia Reuters

The attacks in both countries were widely interpreted as signs of violent resistance to political reforms. Both leaders have faced opposition from factions within their ruling parties, as well as from other forces.

In this image made from video, people fall over in the rush to get away, after an explosion at a rally for Ethiopia’s new Prime Minister, in Addis Ababa, Saturday, June 23, 2018.

The Canadian Press

In Zimbabwe, where a military coup toppled the autocratic ruler Robert Mugabe from power last year, the campaign for the July 30 vote has been freer than previous elections, but a faction loyal to Mr. Mugabe has remained active. In Ethiopia, the new prime minister has launched a wave of political and economic reforms, including peace talks with neighbouring Eritrea that some officials have resisted.

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The explosion in Zimbabwe occurred after Mr. Mnangagwa had addressed thousands of people at a campaign rally at White City Stadium in the city of Bulawayo.

Injured people lay on the ground following an explosion at a Zanu pf rally in Bulawayo, Saturday, June, 23, 2018.

STR/The Associated Press

Video clips appeared to show an object, possibly a grenade, hurtling through the air above the crowd near Mr. Mnangagwa’s entourage. A moment later, there was a loud explosion, smoke billowed into the air, and many people fell to the ground.

“Investigations are under way,” presidential spokesman George Charamba told the state-controlled Herald newspaper after the explosion. “There have been multiple attempts on the President’s life over the past five years.”

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Last year, Mr. Mnangagwa said he had been the victim of a poisoning plot, which required him to be airlifted to South Africa for treatment. The incident occurred in August when he was vice-president and was locked in a bitter feud with Mr. Mugabe’s wife, Grace Mugabe, who remains the unofficial leader of a faction opposing him today.

In Ethiopia, where Mr. Abiy took office in April, the explosion took place after tens of thousands of people had gathered in the streets of Addis Ababa on Saturday morning to support his reforms.

In his short time in office, Mr. Abiy has ended the official state of emergency, released thousands of political prisoners, promised democratic and economic reforms, and supported a long-neglected peace agreement with Eritrea.

Reports said a man tried to throw a grenade towards the stage where Mr. Abiy was speaking, but police officers restrained him as the explosion occurred.

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