A powerful explosion during a political rally at a soccer stadium in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, has killed at least eight people and wounded more than two dozen others. The blast occurred during a speech by the country's transitional prime minister, who is visiting Mogadishu for the first time since forming his government-in-exile late last year.
According to eyewitnesses, Somali Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi had just begun addressing a large crowd of supporters at the stadium, when an explosion occurred near some of the prime minister's heavily-armed bodyguards.
Several thousand people fled in panic, as ambulances arrived to take the wounded and the dying to local hospitals.
Police officials in Mogadishu have not yet determined what caused the blast. But Somalia's Information Minister, Mohammed Abdullahi Jama, tells VOA that it appears to have been an accident.
"The private security militias guarding the prime minister had all kinds of weapons. As he started his speech, one of his private security (men) was holding a Russian RPG [rocket-propelled grenade] and it got heated and exploded," he said.
Prime Minister Gedi was not hurt, but his security team immediately hustled the Somali leader out of the stadium.
The political rally was to have been the highlight of Prime Minister's Gedi's first visit to Mogadishu since he was appointed to the post last year.
The trip had been delayed repeatedly because of security concerns in Mogadishu, which has been effectively controlled by rival warlords and their militias for the past 14 years.
Mr. Gedi, who arrived Friday with a team of African Union and Arab League diplomats, held talks with more than 70 Somali lawmakers and warlords in a bid to reach an agreement to withdraw the gunmen from Mogadishu and allow a safe return of the transitional government from neighboring Kenya, where the government-in-exile was formed.
But many warlords, as well as ordinary Somalis, remain skeptical about a planned deployment of a regional peacekeeping force to assist the government's relocation.
In recent months, thousands of Somalis have held demonstrations in Mogadishu against the plan, which is to include troops from members of a regional bloc known as the Intergovernmental Authority on Development.
Immediate neighbors Ethiopia, Kenya, and Djibouti are members of IGAD and Somalis say they fear that troops from those countries could harbor geopolitical interests that could undermine their neutrality.
The controversy prompted Djibouti and Kenya to pledge that they would not send any of their troops to Somalia. But Ethiopia has said that it will send troops if they are needed. Troops from Uganda and Sudan are expected to start arriving in Somalia in the coming weeks.
Somalia plunged into anarchy in 1991 after a coalition of warlords overthrew the government of dictator Mohammed Siad Barre and carved the country into rival fiefdoms.