Ethiopia’s Meles urges recognition of poll win


Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi urged the international community on Tuesday to respect his landslide election win and said foreign forces could not overturn the outcome and blood should not be shed.

A European Union observer said the election was marred by the ruling party’s use of state resources at a national and local level, setting the opposition at a disadvantage ahead of the vote, but this did not mean the count was not valid.

Tens of thousands of ruling party supporters streamed into a square in Ethiopia’s capital to celebrate the election win for Meles and to reject opposition and rights groups’ accusations of vote-rigging.

The government of this key Washington ally in the region has warned that any politicians who try to spark post-election violence will be held responsible. Opposition leaders were jailed after bloody clashes followed Meles’ 2005 victory.

“The people’s vote will not be overturned by foreign forces,” said Meles, standing behind a transparent bullet-proof screen at Meskel Square and wearing a leather jacket and baseball cap.

“Some of our foreign friends have disappointed us but that’s in the past. We urge them now to give recognition to the people’s vote. The politics of hate is out. Not one life should be lost in post-election riots,” he said.

The EU said the election had fallen short of some international standards and commitments.

“Everyone one was equal, but some were more equal than others,” chief observer Thijs Berman told a news conference.

“The European Union observation mission considers that the playing field for the 2010 election was not sufficiently balanced, leaning in favour of the ruling party in many areas.

“That means that the outcome is in a certain way probably affected. But that does not mean that this outcome when you count is not valid in itself.”

Waving Ethiopian flags, wearing ruling party T-shirts and baseball caps, and holding photographs of Meles aloft, Meles supporters had sang in central Addis Ababa: “Respect our vote, respect our decision, respect our choice.”

Placards in the national colours of green, yellow and red were handed out as people massed in Meskel Square to praise the landslide victory by the former bush guerrilla leader, with many written in English as well as the Amharic language.

The posters in English said: “Stop second guessing us!,” “Respect our sovereign voice,” “Our votes are not for sale” and “We choose our leader, no one else.”

LANDSLIDE VICTORY

Results released by Ethiopia’s electoral board on Monday, showed that the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) and allies won an overwhelming number of votes in nine out of 11 regions and cities to declare so far.

The EPRDF crushed the eight-party opposition coalition known as Medrek in Oromia, the country’s most populous region and traditionally a stronghold for opponents.

The board will release more results at 4 p.m. (2 p.m. British time) and final official results are due on June 21.

Meles told Reuters in an interview on Sunday his party would win as it had presided over seven years of double-digit growth and had begun to reform the political and judicial landscape in this growing destination for foreign direct investment.

While nearly 10 percent of the population relied on emergency food aid last year, the government has invested heavily in infrastructure and Meles now wants to step up power production, improve telecommunications and develop industry.

Some opposition leaders began complaining the election was flawed before polling booths closed, saying the EPRDF had routinely intimidated and harassed critics in the days and months ahead of the election.

Analysts had said earlier if the poll were given a clean bill of health by EU observers there would be little momentum for critics to mount a convincing challenge.

If the EU said the poll was flawed, however, it might embolden the opposition to challenge the result and take to the streets in protest as they did in 2005, they said.

New York-based Human Rights Watch said on Monday that observers should condemn voter intimidation, drawing a sharp response from the government which said the group was an instrument of those wanting to interfere in independent states.

The 2005 poll descended into riots that killed 193 protesters and seven policemen when a different opposition coalition said it was cheated of victory after a campaign which captured the imagination of many Ethiopians.

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