Ethiopia: Prime Minister meets opposition leaders

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]
ADDIS ABABA, 29 Jul 2005 (IRIN) - Ethiopia's political leaders have held their first ever face-to-face talks aimed at ending the deepening crisis over disputed legislative polls, an official said on Friday.

Prime Minister Meles Zenawi met the opposition leaders to try and end the deadlock over who won the 15 May election, in which 25 million people turned out to vote.

It is also the first time the three major political parties have met since dozens of protesters were reportedly gunned down by security forces during demonstrations over alleged fraud. The three parties are Meles' ruling Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front, and the two largest opposition parties, the Coalition for Unity and Democracy, and the United Ethiopian Democratic Front.

Tim Clarke, the head of the European Commission delegation in Ethiopia, who helped broker the talks said it was breakthrough.

"But there is a barb in the tail," he added. "The opposition were told by the prime minister that they have to make a choice in the coming days on whether they are in or out of the process and face the consequences."

Opposition leaders have rejected the 435 declared seats and are insisting that complaints be re-examined or elections re-held in 299 disputed constituencies across the country.

The prime minister called on the two main opposition parties to stay in the election process and not to pull out and boycott parliament in protest.

During the talks, an agreement was reached on allowing opposition parties access to state media and curbing "hate speech" in press coverage of the elections.

The country? third elections, which European observers declared as the freest the country has ever held, descended into bitter accusations after allegations of fraud surfaced.

Opposition leaders were placed under house arrest and post-election protests culminated in at least 40 deaths and thousands of arrests around the country.

Election violence has also hit eastern Ethiopia where a series of bomb attacks killed five. Government officials said the attacks were linked to the delayed 21 August ballot, where 23 seats will be up for grabs.

Elections are also being repeated in at least 15 constituencies on that day.

With 435 seats so far announced, the ruling coalition and allied parties are just 11 seats short of a parliamentary majority.


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