Two Ethiopia opposition members killed after poll

Merera Gudina, leader of the opposition Oromo People's Congress

* Ruling party won overwhelming majority

* Government says killings being investigated

* European Union says poll fell short of standards

By Barry Malone

ADDIS ABABA, May 26 (Reuters) – An Ethiopian opposition party said Wednesday that two of its members had been shot dead by security forces in the sensitive Oromia region in a crackdown on dissent after the ruling party’s crushing election win.

“One was shot on Sunday and one was shot yesterday,” Merera Gudina, leader of the opposition Oromo People’s Congress (OPC) told Reuters. “The government is trying to prevent protests by massively repressing the people.”

Merera Gudina, leader of the opposition Oromo People's Congress
Merera Gudina, leader of the opposition Oromo People's Congress

The electoral board said on Tuesday the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) and allied parties had won 534 seats out of 536 declared, giving Prime Minister Meles Zenawi most seats in the 547-member parliament.

A European Union observer mission said the election was marred by the EPRDF’s use of state resources for campaigning, putting the opposition at a disadvantage ahead of the vote, but this did not mean the count itself was invalid.

The United States also said Ethiopia’s election failed to meet international standards and called for stronger democratic institutions in the country, a key U.S. ally in Africa.

Merera said the dead were Wondu Desta and Tesfaye Selbessa.

Government head of information, Bereket Simon, said one man was shot after trying to storm an office where ballots were being counted and the other was shot a day later by a policeman who he had beaten during the same incident.

“It is unfortunate that the men were killed,” Bereket told Reuters. “But these are isolated incidents. It is nothing to do with any instruction from above.”

Bereket said a warrant had been issued for the policeman’s arrest.

Merera said more than a hundred members of his party, which is part of the eight-party Medrek coalition that has only won one seat in parliament so far, had been arrested since Sunday.

The government denied this allegation.

RERUN CALL

The country’s second biggest opposition party, the All Ethiopian Unity Organisation, rejected the result of the elections on Wednesday called for a rerun.

Western diplomats are watching closely to see how the opposition will react after many of its senior leaders lost their seats in the parliamentary victory for Meles, who is looking to foreign investors to help accelerate development.

At the last election, an opposition coalition cried foul after the EPRDF and allies won 327 seats. Riots erupted in the capital on two separate occasions. Security forces killed a total of 193 protesters and seven policemen died.

Oromia is home to the Oroma, Ethiopia’s biggest ethnic group with 27 million out of 80 million people. The area also produces most of the coffee in Africa’s biggest grower, along with oil seeds, sesame and livestock, which are all key exports.

Oromo had been seen by analysts as an opposition stronghold but the EPRDF won all 178 of the region’s parliamentary seats.

Oromo politicians said the government was cracking down on them ahead of the poll. Both the government and the opposition said members were murdered in Oromia by the other side in the four weeks leading up to the May 23 poll.

(Editing by David Clarke and Philippa Fletcher)

Source: Reuters

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