ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – Ethiopian police shot dead two opposition members in the sensitive Oromia region after an election the ruling party won by a landslide, an opposition party and the government said Wednesday.
The electoral board said Tuesday the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) and allied parties had won 534 seats out of 536 declared, giving Prime Minister Meles Zenawi most seats in the 547-member parliament.
The shootings occurred over a two-day period, the opposition said.
“One was shot Sunday and one was shot yesterday,” Merera Gudina, leader of the opposition Oromo People’s Congress (OPC) told Reuters. “The government is trying to prevent protests by massively repressing the people.”
Government head of information, Bereket Simon, said one man was shot after trying to storm an office where ballots were being counted and the other was shot a day later by a policeman whom he had beaten during the same incident.
“It is unfortunate that the men were killed,” Bereket told Reuters. “But these are isolated incidents. It is nothing to do with any instruction from above.”
He said there was a warrant for the policeman’s arrest.
An eight-party opposition coalition called Medrek, which includes the OPC, called Wednesday for a rerun of the election and said it would not be deterred by the ruling party’s desire to have a single-party state.
“In spite of all the sacrifices paid, both by the nation and by the respective parties, this election simply does not pass the test so we are calling for a rerun of the whole election in the presence of independent election administrators and observers,” said Beyene Petros, the chairman of Medrek.
“This election — let me take that word back, this activity — that took place on May 23, we don’t consider it a genuine election but rather a drama acted by the EPRDF,” he told a news conference in the capital Addis Ababa.
Medrek has won only one seat in parliament so far.
The country’s second biggest opposition party, the All Ethiopian Unity Organization, also rejected the result of the elections and called Wednesday for a rerun.
A European Union observer mission said the election was marred by the EPRDF’s use of state resources for campaigning, putting the opposition at a disadvantage ahead of the vote, but this did not mean the count itself was invalid.
The United States said Ethiopia’s election failed to meet international standards and called for stronger democratic institutions in the country, a key U.S. ally in Africa.
Western diplomats are watching closely to see how the opposition will react after many of its senior leaders lost their seats in the parliamentary victory for Meles, who is looking to foreign investors to help accelerate development.
At the last election, an opposition coalition cried foul after the EPRDF and its allies won 327 seats. Riots erupted in the capital on two separate occasions. Security forces killed 193 protesters and seven policemen died.
Oromia is home to the Oromo, Ethiopia’s biggest ethnic group with 27 million out of 80 million people. The area produces most of the coffee in Africa’s biggest grower, along with oil seeds, sesame and livestock, which are major exports.
Oromo had been seen by analysts as an opposition stronghold but the EPRDF won all 178 of the region’s parliamentary seats.
Oromo politicians said the government was cracking down on them ahead of the poll. Both the government and the opposition said members were murdered in Oromia by the other side in the four weeks leading up to the May 23 poll.
(Editing by David Clarke and Michael Roddy)