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US, Europe Urge Peaceful Resolution of Ethiopian Election Disputes

The United States and European Union appealed jointly Wednesday for the peaceful resolution of disputes stemming from the Ethiopian parliamentary elections in May. The first final results from the voting were issued late last week.

Election-related violence last month killed at least 36 people in Ethiopia, and the United States and European Union are urging the government and all concerned parties in that country to abide by pledges to resolve lingering disputes peacefully.

The unusual joint U.S.-EU statement followed the release last Friday of partial results showing the ruling Ethiopian People's Democratic Front holding a narrow edge over the opposition coalition in the battle for control of the 547-seat parliament.

But results for nearly half the seats have been delayed as officials investigate complaints of vote rigging and fraud. News reports say there are concerns of renewed bloodshed if, as widely expected, the final returns show Prime Minister Meles Zenawi's coalition in control.

The joint U.S.-European Union statement commended Ethiopians for the peaceful conduct of the actual voting, and urged the government and all other factions to respect the terms of two peace declarations made after last month's unrest.

Acting State Department Spokesman Thomas Casey, reading the joint statement, said Ethiopians must avoid both violence and incitement to violence.

"All parties should renounce all use of violence, ethnic hate messages via the media or Internet, and any other action that is likely to further increase tension in Ethiopia," he said. "The European Union and the United States expect all political parties and the government to abide by the political process, through parliamentary and constitutional means to resolve this election crisis."

The statement urged all parties to participate fully in the country's election complaints investigation panel, and said all dissenting views need to be registered and the safety of witnesses ensured.

It called on the Ethiopian government to respect international principles of human rights by exercising due process, and releasing detained party members and supporters who are not going to be charged with crimes.

Hundreds of people were arrested after the May election, mainly for defying a government-imposed ban on demonstrations. Government officials in Addis Ababa said Wednesday the ban would not be renewed after this week, because vote-related tensions have subsided.

They say only about 300 people remain in custody though Ethiopian human rights activists say arrests for post-election unrest continue.

The May 15 contest was only the second real multi-party election in the country's history.

The joint statement called on Ethiopian political leaders as well as Ethiopians abroad to work together for dialogue and open communication.

It said the European Union and the United States will assist Ethiopia as it meets new democratic challenges.