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Grenade Injures Head Of Ethiopia's Somali Region
By Andrew Heavens
ADDIS ABABA, May 28, 2007 – A grenade tossed into a crowd in Ethiopia's volatile Somali region on Monday wounded the local president and several other people celebrating a national holiday, officials said.
The 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.
An ONLF spokesman denied involvement.
Regional president Abdillahi Hassan suffered a leg wound during Monday's attack, Bereket Simon, special adviser to Ethiopia's Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, told Reuters.
"One hand grenade was thrown at the stadium this morning. A number of people were also seriously wounded. We have no deaths confirmed at the moment," he said.
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.
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.
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.
Bereket said he had no information on any restrictions in the Somali region.
Islamists who ruled southern Somalia for the second half of 2006 were on good terms with the ONLF, but the relationship suffered when allied Ethiopian and Somali government troops ousted the Islamists over the New Year.