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Sunday, May 15, 2005

Ethiopians Elect New Parliament, Police Accused of Rounding up Opposition

Ethiopians lined up before dawn on a cool, misty morning Sunday to vote in the country's third election in the country's 3,000-year history, making a choice between the ruling coalition that ended a brutal dictatorship in 1991 and new opposition parties who promise greater liberalization.

Wrapped in white prayer shawls as Orthodox priests sang hymns over loudspeakers, voters waited patiently outside polling stations in the capital, Addis Ababa, where opposition support is high. In some places, voting started late and lines stretched for hundreds of meters (yards).

Derje Woubeshet, an unemployed 29-year-old, said he was voting for the Coalition for Unity and Democracy because he felt the ruling party had failed to create jobs.

"They brought me disaster, all the people are fed up," he said outside a primary school in Addis Ababa. "They have been supported for the last 15 years, now we need a new government."

Wahib Toure, a cotton producer, said complaints do not make a political agenda and that he would vote for the ruling Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front.

"The opposition talked about grievances, but that is not enough to be elected, they are not organized," Wahib, 60, said.

Late Saturday, opposition leaders accused the police of rounding up hundreds of opposition candidates and poll observers in order to rig the elections in the rural areas.

"We are extremely distressed, having worked very hard ... The reports we are receiving are only the tip of the iceberg," said Beyene Petros, vice chairman of the United Ethiopian Democratic Forces.

Petros produced a marked ballot with an electoral seal which was already marked for Prime Minister Meles Zenawi's ruling coalition. He said thousands of such ballots began circulating Saturday.

Government officials denied the allegations, which follow a campaign that foreign election observers have said has been largely free and fair.

Information Minister Bereket Simon said that he called police stations across the country to investigate the opposition claims. "This is absolutely false," Bereket said.

Sudan Tribune

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