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Saturday, April 16, 2005

EU Concerned Over "Harassment" Ahead of Ethiopian Elections

The European Union on Saturday expressed concern over reports of "harassment" in the Horn of Africa nation, ahead of general elections scheduled for next month, officials said.

"Reports of harassment, imprisonment, and other activities of intimidation are worrysome," said Rob Vermas, the Dutch ambassador, representing the EU in Ethiopia, while welcoming about 50 EU observers who arrived on Friday.

EU officials said the decision by the Ethiopian government on March 30 to expel three US democracy groups, the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and the International Republican Institute (IRI) was disappointing.

"The recent issuance of a directive on local observers is disappointing," Vermas explained.

"The NEBE's (state-run National Election Board of Ethiopia) directives will virtually exclude many local NGOs (nongovernmental organisations) from observing the election," Vermas explained.

The election will be the third since the governing EPRDF's Prime Minister Meles Zenawi came to power in 1991. It will however be the first in Ethiopia to be held under international scrutiny amid complaints that local observers have been unfairly denied access.

There are 1,845 candidates representing 36 political parties and independent candidates running for the 480 seats up for grabs in the 547-member federal parliament, only 14 of which are held by the opposition.

About 100 more EU election observers are expected to arrive on May 10.

Sudan Tribune

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