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EU Gives Mixed Reviews on Lead-Up to Ethiopian Elections

European Union observers are giving mixed reviews of the campaign period leading up to Ethiopia's May 15 parliamentary elections.

Press reports quote Dutch Ambassador to Ethiopia Rob Vermaas as saying Ethiopia has made what he calls impressive progress, given that the country's democracy "is still in its infancy."

He and other EU officials welcoming the last contingent of observers were reportedly pleased with what they termed open debate in the country and the attention that Ethiopians are giving to the elections.

But according to a report by the Associated Press, chief EU observer Ana Gomes had complained to the National Electoral Board that the ruling coalition and at least one opposition party had used hate speech to vilify their opponents.

She slammed statements by the ruling Ethiopian Peoples' Revolutionary Democratic Front that the country's opposition parties operate much like Hutu rebels did during Rwanda's 1994 genocide in which Hutu extremists killed up to 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus.

The ruling coalition said opposition parties have similar policies of creating hatred and rifts between ethnic groups.

Ms. Gomes also cited instances of the ruling coalition, its supporters, and government officials assaulting or harassing opposition members, and intimidating voters.

VOA repeatedly tried to reach Ms. Gomes for comment, but was unable to contact her.

Ethiopia's Minister of Information, Bereket Simon, tells VOA the comparison of the Hutu rebel group's actions during Rwanda's genocide to the actions of Ethiopia's opposition parties is fair and accurate, especially after Sunday's opposition rally in the capital, Addis Ababa. "They are preaching for violence and for kicking out the ruling party out of Ethiopia. This is what they are saying. So this is the way exactly what the Interahamwe was doing in Rwanda. So we do not think that is an understatement," he said.

Mr. Bereket denies that the ruling coalition and its supporters are assaulting or harassing opposition members, intimidating voters, or favoring candidates from the ruling coalition. He says the National Electoral Board has investigated every accusation and, in his words, none have been found to be true.

Ethiopia's parliamentary elections, scheduled for May 15, are the third since the ruling coalition took power in 1991. More than 150 E.U. observers are expected to monitor the voting.

This is the first time international observers have been allowed to monitor elections. 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 of the lower house, which will choose the prime minister.

There are three major coalitions running in these elections: the ruling Ethiopian Peoples' Revolutionary Democratic Front; the opposition Coalition for Unity and Democracy; and the opposition Union of Ethiopian Democratic Forces.