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Ethiopian Opposition Accuses Ruling Coalition of Attacking Supporters

Ethiopian opposition parties running in next month's elections say their supporters are being killed, arrested, tortured and intimidated.

The Coalition for Unity and Democracy is an umbrella group of opposition parties fielding candidates in the May 15 legislative elections.

The coalition released a statement saying that at least 40 of its members have been targeted during the campaign by members of the ruling Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front.

Dereje Bekele is vice president of one of the opposition parties, the Oromo Federalist Democratic Movement. Mr. Dereje describes to VOA the difficulties his and other parties have been facing during their campaigns.

"The election is not free and independent," he said. "They arrest our members and they killed our supporters and they arrest all the youth supporters especially."

He says he and other parties are appealing to the United States, the European Union, and other members of the international community to put pressure on the government to ensure that elections are free and fair.

"In the future, if these [incidents] continue, we may boycott [the elections]," he said. "Otherwise, if it becomes free and justice, we continue this election."

He says he has reported these incidents many times to the National Election Board of Ethiopia, with no response.

Ethiopian information minister and ruling coalition spokesman Bereket Simon says the Coalition for Unity and Democracy's statement is "pure fabrication" and "lies."

"Both the ruling party and the opposition parties have devised their own goals and strategies," Mr. Bereket said. "The opposition parties have clearly designed such a goal and strategy, discrediting the election and tarnishing the whole process by fabricating lies."

Mr. Bereket says a forum made up of various political parties has reviewed complaints and found most of them to be unfounded or untrue. He says the National Election Board of Ethiopia is investigating new complaints.

He says there have been around 17 televised debates since late last year in which parties have had more than 300 hours to get their message across.

The minister denies wrongdoing by the ruling coalition.

"We have trained about 600,000 members of the ruling party with a code of conduct which we have prepared," he said. "So far we believe our members are superbly performing in delivering on their promises of a free and fair election process."

The European Union is sending more than 150 monitors to observe the elections, but some local observer groups claim they have been barred.

There are about 25 million people who are eligible to vote in the upcoming elections for members in the lower house who will, in turn, choose the prime minister.

Most parties belong to one of three coalitions: the ruling Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front, the opposition Coalition for Unity and Democracy, and the opposition Union of Ethiopian Democratic Forces.