Ethiopia

Ethiopia: Five killed in grenade attacks in Somali region

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ADDIS ABABA, 26 July (IRIN) - A series of grenade attacks on Sunday that killed five people in Ethiopia's Somali region was designed to disrupt forthcoming elections there, officials said.

Simultaneous attacks occurred in six places across the region, said Ali Mohammed Kunaye, speaker of the Somali regional parliament, whose home was among those attacked.

"These attacks are an attempt to disrupt the elections because the registration of voters is due to start today," Kunaye said. "This is an attack by anti-peace elements who want to reject the elections."

The attacks targeted a bar and a nightclub in Jijiga, the capital of Somali region, and the homes of four regional officials.

The police were carrying out investigations, federal police deputy commissioner Hassan Shauffa said.

Eastern Ethiopia's Somali region, with a population of around four million, is one of the country's poorest and most remote. The region has been blighted by skirmishes between a separatist rebel group and the government.

The attacks came a week after Prime Minister Meles Zenawi announced his government's willingness to have dialogue with the region's rebel Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF).

Leaders of the ONLF, who have responded favourably to the government's call to dialogue but are yet to declare a ceasefire, condemned Sunday's attacks.

"This deliberate killing of civilians, which included a young child, cannot be justified under any circumstances," the ONLF said in a statement.

Parliamentary elections are due to take place on 21 August in Somali region for 23 remaining seats in Ethiopia's 547-member legislature.

Elections that took place in the rest of the country in May were fiercely contested, with the 307 results released so far showing the government and opposition neck and neck.

Polling was delayed in Somali region due to security concerns and heavy rains making some areas inaccessible.

[ENDS]

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