Ethiopia's main opposition coalition is demanding an independent investigation into the death of a campaign worker allegedly beaten to death for his political activities.
Despite strong denials by ruling party officials, leaders of the opposition group Forum say Biyanza Daba Gadisa was beaten outside his home early this month in a small community in western Oromia. He died several days later in an Addis Ababa hospital.
An executive of the local Forum council, Olbana Lelisa, says ruling party officials in Biyanza's neighborhood followed him home and hit him with a gun butt after he refused to stop campaigning against them.
"The main cause is that he is agitating for Forum, the organization," Olbana told an interpreter. "They said you have to stop this agitation against the Ethiopia's main ruling party and abide by our order. And he said, I will not stop. I have to agitate for my party's sake."
A government spokesman Shimelis Kemal called reports of the beating "the biggest lie we have heard."
Speaking to VOA, Shimelis said Biyanza would never have worked for the opposition, because he was a registered member of the ruling party in Oromia. He said the victim had not been beaten, but had died of complications from malaria and typhoid.
The spokesman described the charges as "part of a series of lies concocted by the Forum to smear the electoral process." He said investigations of previous allegations had always shown the opposition to have been wrong.
But senior Forum leader Beyene Petros questioned the impartiality of previous investigations. He charged ruling party officials in communities across mostly rural Ethiopia are carrying on a coordinated campaign of harassment and intimidation, and called for an independent probe into Biyanza's death.
"He is our activist who goes around and posts posters, distributes leaflets, campaigns on our behalf," said Beyene. "So we are demanding that an independent inquiry committee be formed to review this case. We feel it is a politically motivated killing or attack that ended in fatality." He added "Its a very sad case."
Biyanza is the second rural political activist to die since campaigning began for Ethiopia's May 23 national elections. Last month, opposition candidate for parliament in the northern Tigray region Aregawi Gebreyohannes was stabbed to death. His supporters called it a political murder, but police concluded the death was the result of a bar fight. A suspect was promptly arrested, convicted within days of the attack, and sentenced to 15 years in prison.
Another Oromo opposition leader, Bekele Jirata was sentenced in absentia this month to 13 years in prison after being convicted of supporting an Oromo separatist group.
The European Union is sending an observer mission to monitor the fairness of the election. Mission press officer Agnes Doka told VOA the observers are following the inquiry into Biyanza Daba's death, and would publish their findings in a final report after the election.
The 200-member EU mission has been criticized for being too small to monitor 30,000 polling stations and an estimated 29 million registered voters. Of the four major U.S. observation groups, only one - the Carter Center was invited. It declined the invitation.
The European Union's report on Ethiopia's last election for parliament in 2005 said the poll fell short of international principles for genuine democratic elections - a charge formally rejected by the Ethiopian government.