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Opposition accuse Zenawi of election fraud

Ethiopian opposition leaders accused Prime Minister Meles Zenawi's government of election fraud, just hours after polling got underway Sunday. Zenawi (pictured) has acted as prime minister for nearly 20 years, and is expected to win re-election.

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AFP - Ethiopian opposition leaders on Sunday accused Prime Minister Meles Zenawi's ruling regime of rigging the legislative elections, hours after polling opened.

"It doesn't look like an election, even by African standards," said Merara Gudina, one of the top leaders of the opposition coalition Medrek, adding that there were reports of ballot boxes being stuffed in some areas.

He cited several cases of suspected fraud in the southern opposition stronghold of Oromiya, notably in the town of Ambo.

"As of now, 80 percent of all the polling stations of this whole area around Ambo, are without our observers," Merara told AFP in Guder, another town in the Oromiya region that is home to Ethiopia's largest tribe.

"In some areas, we even heard that ballot boxes were opened and stuffed before the arrival of our people," he said.

"They are determined to stay," he said, referring to Meles' ruling coalition, which is widely expected to extend its 19-year-old rule but has been accused of stifling the opposition.

"There is no law that forces us to accept any result. We'll review our assessment regarding the elections tomorrow. But one thing is for sure, all this cheating was done with millions of witnesses," Merara added.

Negasso Gidada, another opposition leader and former Ethiopian president, said opposition observers were prevented from monitoring the electoral process in several parts of the vast Horn of Africa country.

"In many places throughout the country, many of our party observers were not allowed to enter the polling stations," he said.

Negasso alleged that supporters of the ruling Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) had been accompanying voters into the booths to influence their decision.

"There is the question of the voting booths and whether the secrecy of the voting process is properly protected," he said. "We are not yet sure, it is an impression we have."

The last polls in 2005 saw the opposition record its best ever showing but led to violence that killed 200 and triggered a government crackdown that left the regime's main challengers jailed, exiled or greatly weakened.

Rights groups have accused Meles, who has ruled over sub-Saharan Africa's second most populous country with an iron fist for almost two decades, of cracking down on political freedom ahead of the vote.
 

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