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Ethiopian Opposition Rejects Election Results

Ethiopia's two largest opposition parties denounced the country's recent national elections Wednesday, calling for new vote. International organizations and the United States continue to criticize the election process.

Medrek and the All Ethiopia Unity Party, Ethiopia's two largest opposition parties were crushed in national parliamentary elections a few days ago. But both parties are now saying it is not over yet. They called for new elections, accusing the ruling party of intimidation, fraud, harassment and violence.

Early results show the ruling party, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front, (EPRDF) leading in every corner of the country, and sweeping the capital.

Hailu Shawel, the head of the All Ethiopian Unity Party says the opposition never had a chance. "In this election, even if we have every single party together, the result would have been the same. Just look at the counts. They don't
look real to me," Shawel said.

Neither party expects the national elections board to grant a re-vote, and they may take their case to court. But Hailu says neither the board nor the courts are independent of the government's ruling party. He says, it is unlikely that a new election will be granted.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi says the law allows for parties to demand a new vote, if they can prove in court that the ballot was fraudulent. But he says the election was successful, and voters were able to freely choose candidates, without intimidation or coercion.

He also says the European Union's claim that the election process was marred by a lack of level playing field is pure opinion, based on unproven allegations.

"The facts of the European Union report, as apposed to the conclusion of the European Union report does not suggest that there was no level playing field. The facts the conclusion does say so. But there is very little fact in that report," he said.

But it's not just the European Union and opposition parties saying the elections were unfair. Human Rights Watch condemned the elections, calling them an, "orderly facade."

The United States released a statement Wednesday, accusing the Ethiopian government of repression, harassment and intimidation. It criticizes the election process, saying,an environment conducive to free and fair elections was not in place.

Mr. Meles says U.S. critique is politically motivated, and Ethiopia will not be bossed around, just because it receives aid. The U.S. gives roughly a billion dollars a year to Ethiopia, mostly in food and health care. "If they feel that the outcome of the elections are such that they cannot continue their partnership, that's fine, we shall be very
grateful for the assistance we have received so far and move on," he said.

Mr. Meles heads the EPRDF, which has ruled the country since it ousted the previous government in 1991. After the last elections in 2005, protesters claimed fraud, and took to the streets. Almost 200 people were killed. More than 100 opposition leaders, journalists and protesters were arrested. Most were pardoned in two years later, but many leaders now live in exile, or remain in jail.

Both opposition and ruling party leaders are aware of the potential for violence as a result of the recent election. Opposition leaders have called upon their supporters to stay calm, and let the leadership protest the results through the government.

But two people have already been killed in election-related violence in the Ethiopian countryside, and opposition leaders say hundreds have been arrested.

Prime Minister Meles confirmed one person was killed in a scuffle after he stole a ballot box, and said the other death is currently under investigation. But he denied that some people have been arrested for supporting the opposition.