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ADDIS ABABA, 11 Jul 2005 (IRIN) - Ethiopia's ruling party and opposition groups were virtually neck and neck after the first partial official election results were released on Friday.
Prime Minister Meles Zenawi's Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) party won 139 seats and other groups allied to it held 20, bringing the total number of seats for the government to 159 with just over half the results released.
The combined opposition on the other hand garnered a total of 148 seats, including 93 for the main opposition Coalition for Unity and Democracy, 43 for the United Ethiopian Democratic Forces and 12 for other opposition groups.
More results were expected in the next 10 days.
Officials said the National Election Board was still investigating allegations of fraud and vote-rigging in more than 200 remaining constituencies.
Claims of vote-rigging in Ethiopia's third ever elections sparked violence, in which at least 36 people were reportedly shot dead by police in the capital, Addis Ababa, in June.
Successive delays in the announcement of full results for the 547-member parliament have fuelled tensions in the Horn of Africa nation, where more than 25 million eligible voters out of 71 million people went to the polls.
Election chief Kemal Bedri said delays in releasing the tally had been caused by the need to look into widespread complaints.
"We have been investigating all of the complaints from the political parties, however frivolous, and to do that takes time," Kemal told journalists. "The fact that we have carried out these investigations should be seen as a credit, and not tarnishing the image of the elections."
Diplomats said while they hoped the results would have been known by now, it was vital that the rival parties stayed the course and awaited the results of the investigations.
"We would have hoped that the election results would have been there much earlier, as is the case in most places in the world," Tim Clarke, head of the European Commission in Addis Ababa, told journalists. "The important thing now is that everyone keeps on track and waits for the final results."
The 15 May vote, widely considered a test of Meles' commitment to democracy, was followed by demonstrations in which protesters took to the streets of Addis Ababa alleging fraud. Britain froze some US $35.2 million in aid as a result of the unrest.
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