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EU Calls Ethiopian Elections Unfair

The head of the European Union's election observer team in Ethiopia says the country's parliamentary elections, which took place May 15, fell well short of international standards.

The European Union issued a preliminary report Thursday criticizing Ethiopia's handling of its national elections. The EU's report points out numerous irregularities in the May 15 election, including delays, ballots being sold in the black market, and vote-counting procedures that weren't transparent. The report also says Ethiopian electoral officials failed to adequately investigate accusations of voter fraud.

"The situation started to change on the night of the [May] 15 when the counting started," noted Ana Gomes, chief election monitor for the EU's Observation Mission in Ethiopia, which had about 200 observers spread out across the country. "We immediately started to notice lack of transparency, difficulty of access, delays in the counting -- to the extent that on the 21st of May we put out a statement saying that we were very concerned with what was going on with the delay in the counting, aggregation and tabulation of results. That could lend itself to manipulation, and that could actually erode the confidence of the people of Ethiopia in the process."

Claims of massive voter fraud by Ethiopia's ruling party sparked violent protests in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, killing at least 36 people as riot police allegedly fired into the crowds. About 5,000 protesters were arrested.

Still, Ms. Gomes said the EU report on the shortcomings in Ethiopia's election is intended to help the country.

"This report is meant to be constructive, to make the parties learn their lessons and correct their behavior," she said. "There could indeed be multi-party democracy in Ethiopia. The people really showed [what they wanted] by coming up massively to the polls."

Ethiopia's ruling party, led by Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, won a parliamentary majority by a wide margin.

Ethiopia's two main opposition parties have called on the ruling party to accept the formation of a unity government until new elections can be held. That's a proposal that Prime Minister Zenawi firmly rejects.