Ethiopia monitors to probe electoral fraud claims

Inside an Ethiopian polling station

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European Union election observers in Ethiopia are investigating complaints of irregularities in Sunday's vote, but say it was largely peaceful and calm.

However, US-based Human Rights Watch has condemned the election, saying it was preceded by months of repression.

The BBC's Will Ross in Addis Ababa says the ruling party of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi is expected to win.

The parliamentary poll is seen as a test for the country after the 2005 disputed election led to violence.

Human Rights Watch said Ethiopia's election was multi-party theatre staged by a single party state.

Start Quote

The Ethiopian citizens have expressed their vote in a democratic, calm and peaceful way and massively”

End Quote EU observer Thijs Berman

"Behind an orderly facade, the government pressured, intimidated and threatened Ethiopian voters," said Rona Peligal, acting Africa director at Human Rights Watch.

"Whatever the results, the most salient feature of this election was the months of repression preceding it."

But the chief EU observer, Thijs Berman, said he believed turnout on the day had been high, which was "encouraging".

"The Ethiopian citizens have expressed their vote in a democratic, calm and peaceful way and massively," he said.

Mr Berman said technical errors had been reported and complaints received from political parties and candidates.

"We do not know at this stage yet what the extent of these irregularities can be, and how serious they are. We are busy evaluating this," he said.

Track record

Our correspondent says that after almost two decades in office, Mr Meles is confident of victory.

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He puts the expected win down to an impressive track record, especially when it comes to economic growth.

The government has worked hard to improve infrastructure, especially in the urban areas and access to social services like healthcare has increased.

The divided opposition may be citing irregularities but it knows it had little chance against the might of the ruling party machine, our reporter says.

Five years ago, Mr Meles had a shock as an opposition coalition came close to winning the election.

Protests against the result led to almost 200 opposition supporters being shot dead in the streets and opposition leaders were detained - one remains in jail.

This time, there will be much debate as to whether the ruling party's certain victory is down to impressive efforts at developing the country or state harassment of the opposition, our reporter says.

There were thousands of local observers spread out across the country although some in the opposition do not see them as neutral.

The Ethiopian government banned foreign embassy staff from monitoring the poll. It did not see them as experts on elections and said it did not want diplomatic relations blurred.

The European Union had 170 observers on the ground.

Some 32 million people were registered to elect the 547 members of the lower House of Representatives, along with regional councillors who in turn choose the upper house of parliament.

Ethiopia's electoral commission has until 21 June to declare the results.

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