Zimbabwe‘s president has escaped unhurt after an explosion at a campaign rally that state media described as an assassination attempt.
Emmerson Mnangagwa declared that the “cowardly act”, which injured his two vice presidents, would not disrupt the country’s historic first elections since Robert Mugabe was deposed by a military coup.
Dramatic TV footage showed the smiling president waving to a crowd at a stadium in Bulawayo before walking off stage and into a crowded tent which seconds later was rocked by the blast.
People screamed and ran for cover amid a cloud of smoke as the president was whisked away to a nearby government building in Zimbabwe’s second largest city, a traditional opposition stronghold.
The explosion went off a “few inches away from me, but it is not my time,” Mr Mnangagwa told state broadcaster ZBC. The president, who has joked openly about multiple attempts on his life in the past, said he was now used to evading assassination.
At least eight people were injured by Saturday’s blast, the state-run Herald newspaper reported. Vice-president Kembo Mohadi suffered leg injuries, while Constantino Chiwenga, a second vice-president and the former military commander, was left with facial bruising.
Most of the wounded were discharged from hospital after treatment, presidential spokesman George Charamba told the newspaper.
The explosion came only a few hours after a grenade was thrown at a huge rally by Ethiopia’s new prime minister Abiy Ahmed, killing one person.
There was was no immediate claim of responsibility for the blast in Bulawayo, where Mr Mnangagwa was holding his first rally in a city that Zanu-PF has not won in national elections since 2000.
Authorities gave no details of what had caused the explosion but footage appeared to show a projectile in the air moments before the blast.
The run-up to the 30 July vote had been relatively peaceful, unlike previous elections which were marred by violence, mostly by Zanu-PF supporters against the opposition.
“The campaign so far has been conducted in a free and peaceful environment, and we will not allow this cowardly act to get in our way as we move towards elections,” Mr Mnangagwa said. “Its just an element of defeatists in the struggle of freedom. The country is peaceful.”
He said his environment minister and the deputy speaker of parliament were also injured in the blast, as well as vice president Chiwenga’s wife. Security guards were also hurt, The Herald reported.
Mr Mnangagwa’s rise to the presidency was fiercely resisted by Mugabe loyalists, including his wife Grace. The former president said he felt betrayed by Mr Mnangagwa, who lived in the shadows of his predecessor for nearly 50 years.
Opposition leader Nelson Chamisa, the president’s main challenger in next month’s election, expressed sympathy for the victims of the blast and declared no stone should be left unturned in the police investigation.
“Political violence of any nature from any quarter is totally unacceptable,” said the Movement for Democratic Change leader. ”In the past 38 years political violence has been a permanent feature and an anticipated ritual...which we must expunge.”
Mr Mnangagwa said he was “used to these attempts” on his life, noting that he had been poisoned at a rally outside Bulawayo last August when still Mr Mugabe’s vice president. He spent weeks receiving medical treatment in neighbouring South Africa.
Twenty-three candidates have registered to contest the election and Mr Mnangagwa has promised a free and fair vote.
International observers are in the country for the first time since 2002 and, if they endorse the conduct of the ballot, could help Zimbabwe secure funding from international institutions for the first time in two decades.
The two main candidates are campaigning on a pledge to revive an economy crippled by a legacy of often violent seizures of land from white commercial farmers and a black economic empowerment drive that targeted foreign-owned businesses.
Those policies were cornerstones of Mr Mugabe’s near four-decade rule, and Mr Chamisa argues the current president is equally to blame for the the country’s economic woes after served in each of every governments since Zimbabwean independence in 1980.
Zanu-PF argues Zimbabwe is at a critical stage of its transition and needs an experienced hand like Mr Mnangagwa at the tiller.
Agencies contributed to this report.
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