Meles Zenawi's party 'heads for Ethiopia election win'

Polling centre in Addis Ababa on 23/05/2010 Three-quarters of results have been declared

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The governing party in Ethiopia is leading the vote count from Sunday's election, officials say.

Partial results show Prime Minister Meles Zenawi's party is ahead "in all regions", says the election board.

EU observers are investigating complaints of irregularities during the vote, but say it was largely peaceful and calm.

Human Rights Watch has condemned the election as multi-party theatre staged by a single party state.

The US-based group says the election was preceded by "months of repression", in which the government "pressured, intimidated and threatened Ethiopian voters".

The governing Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) has rejected the claims, and accused HRW of waging a malicious smear campaign.

Poll test

Election board head Merga Bekan said that with around three-quarters of the results declared, the EPRDF was in the lead.

"Definitely, at this point the EPRDF has won, definitely," he said.

map

The EPRDF is leading in the opposition heartland of Oromia region, and also in the capital Addis Ababa, where it lost in the 2005 election.

Victory was widely expected, but few thought it would be such a landslide, reports the BBC's Will Ross in Addis Ababa.

He says it had been expected that an eight-party coalition known as Medrek would pose the biggest threat to the governing party, but its showing was dismal.

Mr Meles - in power since 1991 - put 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.

But this poll was also being seen as a test for the country after the 2005 disputed election led to violence.

An opposition coalition came close to winning the election, and protests against the result led to almost 200 opposition supporters being shot dead in the streets. Opposition leaders were also detained, and 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.

Analysts suggest the truth is a combination of the two, he adds.

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