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Panel Investigating Ethiopian Post-Election Violence Says Death Toll Higher Than Thought

A parliamentary panel set up to investigate violence following last year's elections in Ethiopia has found that more than three times as many people were killed during the unrest than the government had earlier announced. The panel is to formally present its report to parliament Monday.

Details of the panel's report, leaked to several news agencies, emerged in the media days before the report is due to be handed over to parliament, and the panel's chairman spoke to reporters about the report.

The report says 193 civilians and six police officers were killed in demonstrations contesting the May 2005 election results, while at least 763 civilians were injured.

Official government statistics put the number of those killed in June and November demonstrations at slightly more than 50 people.

However, the report says authorities did not use excessive force in dealing with the unrest.

The new death toll matches the number given by former panel vice chairman, Wolde-Michael Meshesha, who recently fled Ethiopia and has spoken to Western reporters.

But the panel's report is at odds with Meshesha's claim that Ethiopian police used excessive force in putting down opposition protests.

The acting chairman of the parliamentary panel, Mekonnen Disasa, told VOA he could not commenton the report before next week.

"The report is to be presented to the parliament on Monday," he said. "Before Monday, I cannot comment on the report because it is against the ethical code of conduct adopted by the commission."

Early results of the May 15 elections had indicated a victory for the ruling Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front, which sparked violent demonstrations in June and early November and mass arrests of protesters who accused the coalition of massive vote-rigging and other fraud.

In mid-June, the United States had issued a statement condemning what it called the unnecessary use of excessive force by Ethiopian security forces in dealing with the crisis.

The subsequent arrests and detentions of opposition politicians, journalists, activists and others were also internationally condemned.