Washington -- Thousands of Ethiopians peacefully demonstrated outside the State Department May 26 to call for full transparency in the vote counting that is taking place after the recent parliamentary elections in Ethiopia.
Carrying signs saying "Support free and fair elections in Ethiopia" and "President Bush, Secretary Rice, Ethiopians Demand Respect for Their Votes," a crowd of 1,500 and 2,000 people stood outside the State Department on a bright and sunny morning chanting for greater freedom and democracy in their country.
Several leaders of the Ethiopian community in the United States, as well as Coptic Archbishop Melke Tsadik, presented a document expressing their concerns to Anne Simon, representing the State Department's Bureau of African Affairs.
At the regular noon briefing, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher acknowledged the demonstrators and stated: "We are ourselves following very closely the developments in the Ethiopian election. The National Election Board has begun announcing results. It started on Saturday [May 21]. About 55 percent of 547 constituencies have reported, but all these results are preliminary. We don't expect official certification until June 8th. The next phases are vote counting, certification, and formation of a government."
Boucher added: "We've expressed clearly the view this needs to be done in a transparent and democratic manner. There are some international observer teams, including U.S. embassy personnel, who are monitoring the whole process through the end."
Several demonstrators told the Washington File their aim was to make the State Department aware of their fears that the Ethiopian government might skew official results of the election that they said had already seen more than 100 members of opposition parties elected to the national assembly.
A representative of the 2005 Ethiopian National Election Coordinating Task Force handed out a press release alleging that "as voting was coming to an end [in the May 15 elections], the Prime Minister declared an illegal state of emergency" and accusing the government of muzzling the media and attacking opposition poll watchers.
Awaiting the electoral commission’s final report, the statement called on the U.S. government "to support the stand by the Ethiopian people in their fight for the full realization of their rights. We ask you to support the struggle for democracy."
Former Ethiopian Foreign Minister Goshu Wolde praised the push by the United States for greater political inclusion in Ethiopia and explained that the demonstrations had two aims: "One, to impress on the Government of the United States, which has always insisted it is for democracy and liberty all over the world, that in Ethiopia liberty and democracy are now in jeopardy" -- with the hope that the United States would make sure "the electoral process comes to its logical conclusion."
Secondly, Wolde said, "We want the [U.S.] Government to see to it that the state of emergency, which has been imposed on the people, is lifted" so that the democratic aspirations of the Ethiopian people will be respected.