x

Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 22 July 2018

Blast hits Zimbabwe president's campaign rally

Emmerson Mnangagwa survives apparent assassination attempt one month before elections

Smoke fills the stage following an explosion at a Zanu-PF rally in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, on June 23, 2018. The blast occurred just after President Emerson Mnangagwa had finished speaking. AP Photo
Smoke fills the stage following an explosion at a Zanu-PF rally in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, on June 23, 2018. The blast occurred just after President Emerson Mnangagwa had finished speaking. AP Photo

An explosion rocked a stadium where Zimbabwe's president was addressing a campaign rally on Saturday, with state media calling it an assassination attempt but saying he was not hurt. Witnesses said several people appeared to be injured, including a vice president.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa was whisked to a state house in Bulawayo, where he had been speaking ahead of next month's historic election, the first since longtime leader Robert Mugabe stepped down.

"Attempt on ED's life," the state-run Zimbabwe Herald's headline said, referring to the president by his initials.

The blast occurred as Mr Mnangagwa had just finished addressing the crowd and was leaving the podium.

Footage posted online showed the president waving to the crowd, turning to step off the podium and walking into the open-sided VIP tent, where seconds later the explosion occurred. People ducked and screamed and smoke billowed.

State television immediately cut its broadcast. The broadcaster, ZBC, later reported that Vice President Kembo Mohadi was injured in the leg and taken to a local hospital.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa announces July 30 as the date for Zimbabwe's general elections during an event in Harare on May 30, 2018. Philimon Bulawayo / Reuters
President Emmerson Mnangagwa announces July 30 as the date for Zimbabwe's general elections during an event in Harare on May 30, 2018. Philimon Bulawayo / Reuters

Bulawayo, Zimbabwe's second-largest city, is traditionally an opposition stronghold.

The explosion came just hours after a similar attack in Ethiopia, where a blast killed at least one person and injured scores just after the new prime minister addressed a huge rally in the capital.

Presidential spokesman George Charamba told the Zimbabwe Herald that investigations were under way, and pointed out that there had been "multiple attempts" on Mr Mnangagwa's life over the years.

The president himself has openly joked about the attempts, including during his campaigning.

Mr Mnangagwa took power in November after former ally Mr Mugabe stepped down under military pressure. That dramatic transfer of power began when Mr Mnangagwa was fired as Mr Mugabe's deputy and said he had to immediately flee the country for his life.

The July 30 election will be the first without Mr Mugabe since the southern African nation gained independence in 1980. Mr Mnangagwa has pledged to hold a free and fair election, inviting western observers for the first time in almost two decades.

Past votes have been marked by allegations of violence and fraud, and the United States and others have said a credible vote is key to lifting international sanctions.