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Ethiopian Students Protest Provisional Election Results

An Ethiopian police officer hits a university student with the butt of his assault rifle in Addis Ababa

Ethiopian police Monday surrounded a university in the capital as students protested provisional results of the country's recent parliamentary election. The opposition says Ethiopian authorities are increasingly clamping down on election critics.

Security forces blocked the entrance to Addis Ababa University and locked hundreds of chanting students inside the campus before rounding up, arresting, and taking away scores of the protesters.

The students were protesting provisional election results that indicate a victory for the ruling Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front. They accused the ruling coalition of committing massive vote rigging and other fraud, a view echoed by opposition parties.

The real winner of the May 15 election, said the students, is the main opposition group, the Coalition for Unity and Democracy.

The campaign manager for the Coalition for Unity and Democracy, Berhanu Nega, tells VOA the students are frustrated that the official election results, which were supposed to be announced on June 8, will now be announced one month later. He says the students also think no action is being taken to correct election irregularities.

Mr. Berhanu says the government is distorting the magnitude of the students' protest, and that this is the latest clampdown on election critics.

"The government is pushing it further and trying to make it as if this is something that is coordinated by the opposition, which certainly it is not," he said. "They seem to be looking for a reason to clamp down on everyone, which makes the situation a bit dangerous. It will be good if the international community knows what's going on right now. Things are getting really bad."

Monday's student protest defied a month-long ban on all post-election demonstrations imposed by Prime Minister Meles Zenawi May 15.

The demonstration comes as the National Electoral Board of Ethiopia investigates election irregularities. That investigation is the reason electoral officials gave for the month-long delay in announcing the official results.

VOA was unable to reach the spokesman of the electoral board for comment. The board's website says it is reviewing complaints filed by political parties in 299 constituencies.

Provisional results indicate that the ruling coalition has 302 seats in the 547-member parliament, while the Coalition for Unity and Democracy has 122 seats.

This election is the third since the ruling coalition took power in 1991.

More than 300 international observers, including more than 150 from the European Union and 50 from the United States visited some of the 31,000 polling stations on election day.

The observers reported irregularities, and expressed concerns about allegations of intimidation.