ADDIS ABABA, 20 July (IRIN) - Ethiopia's two main opposition parties on Tuesday branded investigations into election fraud a "complete failure", and said their observers had been arrested, beaten and even killed.
The vice chairman of the opposition Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD), Berhanu Nega, said the government and the election board had, from the start, rigged the probe into alleged malpractices.
"The investigation process was a complete failure," he said. "Our representatives and witnesses have been harassed, threatened, barred and killed upon their return from the hearings.
"The environment in which the panels conducted the investigation was too flawed to ascertain that there was vote rigging," he added.
Investigations into 139 of the 524 constituencies contested in the 15 May poll could prove crucial in deciding who wins a majority of seats in the country's parliament, as partial results show the government leading by the narrowest of margins.
The vice chairman of the opposition United Ethiopian Democratic Forces (UEDF), Beyene Petros, said in more than 90 percent of constituencies where the opposition had submitted complaints, the probe had been irregular and had favoured the ruling party.
The government, however, rejected the opposition's claims. Information minister Bereket Simon said: "The investigations have taken place in the presence of international observers.
"We believe that the process is moving on the right path, is on track, transparent and open. This is the same old tactic by the opposition to undermine the process," he added.
The crisis surrounding the poll count sparked disturbances in the capital and provinces last month, with police allegedly shooting dead at least 40 protestors.
Accusations of vote rigging and irregularities forced the election board to delay releasing official results, originally scheduled for 8 June, until all complaints had been investigated.
Of the 307 seats declared so far, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi's Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front has won 139 seats; the two main opposition groups - CUD and UEDF - hold 93 and 42 seats respectively.
Twenty-three seats in the remote eastern Somali region are due to be contested in August. A simple majority is needed to form a government.
Meanwhile, Sweden announced it would send four additional election observers to Ethiopia. During the recent poll, Sweden had six election observers as part of the joint EU election observation mission.
The observers will monitor the ongoing appeals against results in various election districts and also the new round of elections in Somali region.
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