June 29, 2005

Ethiopia may re-run some disputed elections

By Tsegaye Tadesse

NAIROBI (Reuters) - Ethiopia said on Wednesday it may orderelection re-runs in some constituencies where fraud was allegedin May 15 elections that have provoked fatal protests anddamaged Prime Minister Meles Zenawi's reputation.

Police shot 36 people dead and arrested several thousandearlier this month as street demonstrations and violenceerupted over the election that appeared to show Meles holdingonto power despite a surge from the opposition.

Final results had been due on July 8 -- but now look likebeing delayed while irregularities are probed.

"Considering the shortage of time and the difficult workfacing investigators to probe alleged fraud and riggings in 135constituencies, it is unlikely that final results from the 524constituencies will be made public on July 8," the stateElection Board's information officer Getahun Amogne said.

"It is also possible that a re-run of elections may beordered in some of the constituencies under investigation whichmay take longer time than anticipated and force a delay inannouncing the final result," he told Reuters.

Investigating teams, including international observers andlawyers, fanned out across Ethiopia to start their probes onWednesday, the official said.


Also on Wednesday, state news agency ENA announced thatfour newspaper editors had been charged with "slurring" thesecurity forces after criticizing the recent crackdown.

The editors of private weeklies Menelik, Tomar, Satenaw andAsqual were freed on bail after appearing in court on Tuesdayto hear charges of "defamation and misrepresentation" of theDefense Ministry, it said.

"The editors were charged for persistently carrying newsitems that slur the good name of the Ministry and attempt toalienate the military from the Ethiopian people," it said.

Meles Zenawi has in the past been feted by Western leadersand was a prominent member of the UK-sponsored AfricaCommission giving recommendations to the G8 group of richnations on how to tackle the continent's problems.

But accusations of fraud in the poll, then the violence andarrests, and now the move against editors, have called hisdemocratic credentials into question.

It was not clear when the case against the editors wouldresume or what penalties they face.

The Ethiopian Free Press Journalists Association (EFJA)called the charges an "unwelcome development."

It appealed to foreign press watchdogs to monitor "thegreat danger hovering over members of the free press which maychallenge its very existence."

According to provisional results from May's election,Meles' ruling Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front(EPRDF) and its allies won enough seats in the federalparliament to form the next government.

But the main opposition Coalition for Unity and Democracy(CUD) says the results are meaningless until accusations offraud are properly investigated.

The election was only the second true multi-party poll inAfrica's top coffee producer, the second most populous countryin sub-Saharan Africa with 72 million people.

News agency ENA added on Wednesday that another 400prisoners had been released since the crackdown, bringing to3,430 the total freed in recent days. Another 1,387 prisonerswere still being held, the agency quoted police as saying.